I find the rotation of Standard a very interesting facet of Magic. I like to look at what decks are losing and gaining. I guess that is the scientist in me—analyzing the data and predicting outcomes. It also can give you an idea of the metagame for the first few tournaments, letting you sculpt new decks to beat the field. Inventing a great deck is no use if it loses to the one deck everyone is playing.
This week I want to take the time to look at the big decks that define the Standard metagame now, and consider the winners and losers of rotation, and what they will look to replace with cards from Ravnica. I will then move on to consider what cards are not currently seeing enough play despite their apparent power level. Finally, I’ll take a quick look at Block, as this often indicates what decks and cards are going to influence Standard in the forthcoming year.
I think that says it all. An average Delver list is losing almost all of it’s non-creature spells but is keeping its creature package. Personally, I hope there will be no replacement for Ponder in Ravnica. I have previously made my thoughts on the costing and power level of Ponder here.
Will Delver exist in a deck that can’t set up the transform condition? Yes. Will it be as powerful? Good question. Probably not, but people have won (and lost) enough games to blind flipped Delvers to know the deck does not need Ponder to function. It obviously depends on exact numbers and what is in your hand, but a turn one Delver can expect to flip on turn 2 between 33-50% of the time. That is not bad odds on getting a 3/2 flier to attack with.
People keep telling me that Vapor Snag can just be replaced with Unsummon. Yes it can, but the damage effect is really relevant for the tempo-based deck. Dismember and Gut Shot saying good night really restricts the removal options for the deck, though I won’t be surprised to see a Path-to-Exile-type spell in Ravnica as we haven’t had (a good) one of those in a while.
Azorius Charm feels like it’s trying to fill many of these spaces, but it falls short for me on a number of levels. The Excommunicate effect would be powerful, except that it only targets attackers or blockers and you really want to use it to force through attackers. It could be powerful in the mirror, so perhaps will be a sideboard staple for the deck.
I think the deck’s biggest loss is Mana Leak and I don’t foresee us getting another cheap counter spell in a while. I know Delver lists have been cutting copies of Leak, but the threat of it kept us honest. I guess Spell Snare or similar could come back, but whether that sort of conditional spell will be good enough will depend on the exact metagame composition.
In summary, I love the creature package that Delver currently has and with that remaining I’m sure there will be some variant on this deck in the Standard seasons to come.
Nooooooooooooooooo! Birthing Pod is leaving us. I have loved the Pod, a love shared by many, but we will have to limit ourselves to playing it in Modern (bring on the Modern PTQ season).
Oddly, the deck will not exist next season without its namesake. I was going to say you will still see a Naya-based aggro deck, but wait, the deck’s best three-drop is also leaving the playing field. Blade Splicer adds ridiculous value to this list—be it getting aggressive early, Podding through, or blinking it with Restoration Angel.
Blade Splicer leaving also makes a big change of the viability of certain decks. Before, Blade Splicer was a huge problem for aggro decks. Before the rediscovery of Blade Splicer Strangleroot Geist was a real menace in Standard. He is not leaving us, and with 3/3 first striking Golems out the the picture I’m sure he will be back in force. As such it might be reasonable to expect GR Aggro to make a showing again.
RG Aggro makes superb use of Bonfire which will continue to be a force in Standard post-rotation. I have always preferred Bonfire in an aggressive shell—don’t get me wrong, it is superb value for many decks, but backing that up with a vicious assault is where I want to be.
This deck isn’t without its loses. Green Sun’s Zenith and the Swords are hard to say goodbye to. Gruul is not until Gatecrash, so it won’t get anything particularly juicy for another 3 months or so. But Geist, Rancor, Bonfire and [card huntmaster of the fells]Huntmaster[/card] make for a powerful framework for someone to work with.
The other deck that benefits from the retirement of Blade Splicer is Zombies. And here we come to the big winner of rotation.
Zombies loses shockingly little. Mortarpod can be replaced with Bloodthrone Vampire, which I prefer anyway. Blackcleave Cliffs can be replaced by Blood Crypt, and the life cost will not bother the aggro deck.
Because of how little this tried and tested deck is losing, it will be an easy choice for the first Standard tournaments of the new season. It makes for a strong option and should compose a big percentage of the metagame. If I were a brewer I would be looking to find a deck with a strong Zombies matchup to take down the competition. I don’t know what that deck is (sorry), but I imagine it might want to run effects like Pillar of Flame to stop its terrifying graveyard recursion, and plenty of other removal for pesky Blood Artists and such.
You don’t need a PhD to see that poison is no longer going to be a threat in Standard. Likewise if there is a ramp deck it will be dramatically different from the Primeval Titan decks we’ve all come to know and hate.
There are two other aspects to consider as indicators of where Standard may be heading post-rotation. First you can look at cards that are objectively strong but have not yet or recently seen play due to the presence or absence of other cards in the meta. The other indicator of the upcoming Standard season is the outgoing Block season.
I have had a browse through cards from Innistrad block and M13, and here are my top picks of cards that are not currently seeing much if any play but warrant another go:
I particularly like the inclusion of Souls and Hellkite in this list. Lingering Souls hasn’t seen much play of late; BW Tokens has never quite made it into the big time and its other home, control, has been absent. The card is still great in its own right, so it might be time for a comeback. If it does though, Thundermaw Hellkite will come into its own.
Hellkite will probably start to see more action post-rotation anyway if annoying tempo decks with Unsummon effects go away. He is awesome even without his ability to wipe out a board of Spirit tokens. I will enjoy watching these two cards oscillate in prevalence during next Standard season (much like Corrosive Gale vs Spirits from earlier this year).
The other creatures I’ve picked out are expensive, powerful threats that don’t like Vapor Snag. I look forward to utilizing these as potential game winners in my decks. Sublime Archangel is my particular favorite (and no, not because she’s an Angel). Already we are seeing a lot of token producing cards from Selesnya in RTR, and I can certainly envision a GWb token deck with Archangel as the back-breaking finisher—doesn’t really matter what you are swinging with when it’s getting +8/+8.
If these powerful, standalone creatures do rise to fame in Standard in the months to come then expect a lot more spot removal to see play. At the moment removal is either Bonfire shaped or mostly handles one-toughness guys (Gut Shot and Tragic Slip). This will be forced to change, but luckily we seem to be getting some tasty (if somewhat color-heavy) removal in RTR to make up for the absence of Doom Blade in M13.
In case you don’t pay attention to Block (which is completely understandable) there is one deck. Sometimes people play other things but this deck is dominant and commanding. What is the deck? Well, it’s Jund. Sometimes you also run white for Restoration Angel. Here is an example list for us to consider:
This deck runs many of the high-power cards that are making big impacts in Standard: Bonfire, Silverheart, Aristrocrat, and Huntmaster.
One of its difficulties in Block was the mana base. Some copies of the deck ran Abundant Growth as fixing, and this particular list ran Avacyn’s Pilgrim despite running no white cards. The reprinting of the shocklands will make the mana much easier for the deck, especially as it gets Overgrown Tomb and Blood Crypt in the first set of the block. Additionally, there are better mana dudes to choose from: Arbor Elf plays well with shocklands and I will be very surprised not too see Birds of Paradise reprinted.
Golgari and Rakdos guilds are both in Return to Ravnica and already we have seen enough cards that I’m sure we will see a Jund-style deck appear in Standard, whether it is a top player remains to be seen.
And that’s a wrap on my predictions and assumptions about the upcoming Standard season. What do you think will make a splash? Do you agree Zombies will draw first blood or will there be an awesome breakout deck from RTR that will sweep the field away? Let me know what you are thinking about @onionpixie and I will see you again same time next week.