Getting into competitive Magic is a daunting leap to make. I remember when I first paid serious money on a “real” Standard deck, buying a playset of Snapcaster Mage and Geist of Saint Traft to play White-Blue Delver in 2012. Before that, the most I’d spent on a Magic card was $3 for a Phyrexian Crusader. It was a big step.
If you’re looking to make a similar step forward—perhaps the return of the core set has brought you to Magic, or the drama of Pro Tour 25th Anniversary is making you think about a more serious commitment to competitive Magic—now is a tricky time to buy into Standard. An overwhelming proportion of the format’s staples will depart Standard in a few weeks, so you need to be very careful before buying soon-to-rotate powerhouses.
Today, I’m going to look at two tier 1 decks that will survive rotation, and how you can best manage your investment to get the greatest return when it comes to long-term card viability. In other words, I’m going to find the best cards to buy that have the best chance of seeing play once Guilds of Ravnica replaces the Amonkhet and Kaladesh blocks in October.
Although my perspective may be a little biased here, as a rusted-on White-Blue Control player, it’s pretty clear that this deck is powerful, robust, and for the most part survives rotation. While the loss of Torrential Gearhulk will be a blow for all blue-based control lists, those including white will feel the impact much less thanks to their reliance on enchantment-based removal rather than instants.
Gabriel Joglar, 1st place at GP Orlando 2018
Gabriel Joglar won GP Orlando with this take on the archetype, and broadly speaking it’s a good blueprint when it comes to what White-Blue Control generally looks like. As you can see, there aren’t too many cards in here that are rotating, and if they are, there are some nice, clean analogues that can and will slot in nicely.
Before talking about post-rotation substitutions, however, I want to talk about the expensive rares and mythics in this list, and make the case for why you should buy them despite their high price. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Search for Azcanta, and Settle the Wreckage are all relatively expensive cards that might give you pause—especially as a new player—but I still think the right move is to buy them.
I was very lucky to buy Snapcasters and Geists when I started playing competitive Magic, as I’ve actually ultimately gained value on the transaction, and this was before Snapcaster was a Modern powerhouse. Teferi, Search, and Settle all see play in Modern. While their upfront cost is high, you are going to get more than enough mileage out of these cards over the years, and they’ll set you up to transition into Modern once they rotate out of Standard (which won’t happen for ages, remember). For that reason, I recommend buying into these cards—they’re a good long-term investment that won’t lose value.
Aside from this, it’s surprising to see how few of the cards in this list are rotating—only 26 of the 75. And of that 75, most of them have clear analogues (or almost certainly will). Cleansing Nova comes in for Fumigate, Ixalan’s Binding for Cast Out, and Lyra Dawnbringer for Regal Caracal (another Modern-playable mythic). Guilds of Ravnica will almost certainly bring with it a 1UU Cancel-with-upside along the lines of Dissipate or Dissolve, a new card advantage engine to replace Glimmer (the fallback is Divination), and with a bit of luck we will be able to upgrade those Irrigated Farmlands into Hallowed Fountains.
In short, this deck is a great starting point to begin your campaign into competitive Standard. You don’t stand to lose too much at all, as the expensive rares will survive rotation (and eventually port to Modern), and the cards that don’t make it will be easy and cheap to replace. Plus, take it from me—playing White-Blue Control truly is Magic as Garfield intended.
Perhaps you’re not a blue mage. That’s okay—we can’t all be people of great taste and refinement. When trawling through the 5-0 lists from the MTGO Standard Leagues, I came across a real surprise: Abzan Control. The innovative keystone27 put together an amazing-looking list, and happily, it survives rotation almost completely intact.
keystone27, 5-0 in a MTGO Standard League
19 of the above 75 cards rotate out in October, and again, they’re either replaceable or worth picking up anyway. Fatal Push will remain a Modern staple until the heat death of the universe, and all of the others (Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Doomfall) are so cheap that they don’t matter. Concealed Courtyard also comes from a Modern-playable pedigree, and when you look at the price of Blackcleave Cliffs, well, if Abzan ever returns to a position of dominance in Modern, you’ll be glad that you got the Courtyards cheap.
The rest of the deck is simply the best-in-show option at each point on the curve. Vraska’s Contempt is the best answer in Standard right now, and isn’t going to suddenly become unplayable come rotation. Karn is, in many ways, similar to Teferi—while not as ubiquitous in older formats, Karn, Scion of Urza sees play as far back as Legacy and even Vintage, and is a worthy pickup that will retain value. Treasure Map, too, is very underrated as a colorless source of card advantage—something that may be very relevant in the traditionally multicolored Ravnica-influenced Standard.
I can’t speak to how this deck will be positioned post-rotation without first seeing the cards that will join us with Guilds of Ravnica, but seeing as this list is filled with nice, clean answers (Vraska’s Contempt, Seal Away), rock-solid card advantage engines (Treasure Map, Karn, Scion of Urza), and powerful win conditions (The Eldest Reborn, Vraska, Relic Seeker), it seems to me that a strategy like this will never truly be too far from Standard playability. This deck is a great pickup for those looking to get a foothold on competitive Standard.
A Warning: Be Wary of Red Cards
I assumed that my Delver deck would survive rotation in 2012 due to its unbridled dominance leading up to Return to Ravnica. I was very, very wrong about this, and in hindsight it seems obvious, but at the time, as a relatively new player, I didn’t fully understand the ebb and flow of decks within Standard formats.
Over the last year or so, a powerful suite of red cards have dominated Standard to the point that there are too many mythic 4-drops for the red decks to cram in. Red has been unusually dominant for months, and you might be forgiven for thinking that they will also be around once Amonkhet and Kaladesh leave us. Make no mistake—they will not.
Losing everything from Bomat Courier to Hazoret, from Ahn-Crop Crasher to Glorybringer—this will be the death knell for red decks post-rotation. A new red deck may very well emerge after rotation, but it’s unlikely to look like what we’re up against now, and for that reason I advise you to steer clear of contingency plans that involve scrapping together a “new” red deck out of the leftovers. Instead, the lists above give a much better starting point to build from.
Starting out in competitive Standard can be an intimidating prospect. If you have questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to ask me (or a friendly pro who might be able to give you a much better answer) about whatever’s on your mind—@rileyquarytower on Twitter is the best way to reach me. Best of luck with your entrance into the next level of Magic!