Sometimes, a 4-set rotation would leave nothing standing, and everyone would have to start from scratch. But the coolest thing about Ixalan so far is that I feel like there will both be new archetypes and some decks from the prior Standard that will port over nicely.
Let’s take a look at some of the stock decks from last season to see if there are any new toys to help keep those decks intact.
If you look at the list Brad Nelson used to win Grand Prix Denver, not much is going to change. The deck simply revolves around using energy as a resource to fuel a powerful late-game strategy. First it was Aetherworks Marvel, then it was Saheeli Combo, then back to Aetherworks Marvel, and then when all of those cards were banned, the deck still functioned with curve-toppers like Glorybringer, Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, or The Scarab God to close out games.
Brad Nelson, GP Denver
I don’t see much I’d consider adding to the deck, but there are a few options.
Carnage Tyrant has gotten a ton of buzz as a card that can combat control. You may see a copy or two in the sideboard of Temur Energy for just that purpose.
Spell Pierce is a great tempo positive spell that may also see play in Temur Energy, almost certainly in the sideboard. It’s easy to play a Bristling Hydra with a single mana up and then counter a Fumigate for 1 mana.
I don’t think Lightning Strike will see play here. Going to the face isn’t really Temur’s goal, as it’s more focused on winning the board presence game, so Abrade's versatility and Harnessed Lightning’s ability to kill bigger creatures are more relevant.
I think Temur will stand pat with The Scarab God or Glorybringer. It wants to control the battlefield as much as possible, and The Scarab God has the ability to put creatures onto the battlefield turn after turn, while Glorybringer can both deal with opposing threats nicely. Regisaur Alpha puts 7 power onto the battlefield, but Temur Energy never really wanted to play Verdurous Gearhulk either, which is a similar card, and perhaps better for Temur Energy if you wanted such an effect.
Other than that, you have to fix the mana base. You lose only a Game Trail and a Lumbering Falls from the main deck, and you should add more cycling lands or Rootbound Crag. All in all, the deck will basically stay the same moving forward, and I believe it will remain competitive—potentially even dominant—because of how little it loses, and how small Standard is now.
Matt Severa, GP DC
Mardu Vehicles is a tough nut to crack after rotation. Thraben Inspector is a huge loss as a solid 1-mana artifact play. The closest thing I can think of to “replace it” is Bomat Courier, but that’s not quite the same, as Bomat’s easy to kill and it’s generally important to always have an artifact in play for Unlicensed Disintegration and Spire of Industry.
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar's rotation leaves a hole for Gideon of the Trials to see some Standard play finally. As you see in Matt Severa’s deck here, he moved the Gideon, Ally of Zendikars to the sideboard for Thought-Knot Seer, but that’s also on the way out.
As for new cards, you get a few options, but not many.
Duress stands out to me as a huge upgrade over any other hand disruption we’ve had for Mardu’s sideboard. Mardu has access to the best removal to manage creatures, so Duress will take care of any other problems.
Captain Lannery Storm leaves you an incidental artifact, and competes with cards like Pia Nalaar. Pia, while still solid, is a little worse without Archangel Avacyn to flip, or Clues to sacrifice to prevent creatures from blocking.
As for Vehicles, the only one I see so far that might make the cut is Fell Flagship. I think it’s a little too weak, but Fell Flagship does have the ability to grind down an opponent’s hand and it's resilient to most sweepers. You're likely to see this one as a card for a Pirate deck, and not outside of them.
Sentinel Totem is actually solid here as a sideboard options because it’s got the important card type of artifact, and will sit in play for a while as the opponent will generally have to commit to their graveyard shenanigans before you crack it. This is only relevant if there’s a graveyard deck left in the metagame, such as God-Pharaoh's Gift.
Lightning Strike is more compelling here than it is in Temur Energy, but in the end Cut // Ribbons is still better. Cut // Ribbons allows you to kill a Glorybringer while also going for the face later in the game. Abrade and Lightning Strike are closer, but my gut still says that Abrade is more applicable for killing opposing Heart of Kirans, Skysovereign Consul Flagships, and Gearhulks.
Huatli, Warrior Poet is an on-color gold planeswalker, but the juice doesn’t seem like it’s worth the squeeze. The loyalty and impact of the card is just too low for 5 mana in this deck.
So far, I’m not too impressed with the cards from Ixalan as they don't improve this archetype. I mostly think it will have to revert back to cards from older sets to fill the holes left in the deck after rotation. I see it being more of a R/W or B/W Vehicles deck moving forward.
Sam Pardee, GP Denver
Ramunap Red is a scary deck in Ixalan Standard.
While it loses very few cards, it gains a few important ones as well.
Falkenrath Gorger is the biggest hit to this archetype. As a 2-power 1-drop, it was still one of the worst cards in the deck. You lose Village Messenger as well, but that wasn’t even as highly played as Soul-Scar Mage, which will fit right into this spot nicely. So all in all, you lose one total 1-drop, but a lot of players were already moving away from that.
Incendiary Flow is gone, but luckily for red players, Lightning Strike is a huge upgrade. Incendiary Flow’s added effect of exiling a creature wouldn’t have come into play as much thanks to Soul-Scar Mage being a 4-of in Ixalan Standard anyway.
Captain Lannery Storm seems like an awesome addition to this deck. It’s important for the more expensive creatures to have haste in this deck because you want to be able to chip in damage every turn as your opponents deal with your threats one by one, or more importantly, you get to continue dealing damage inn the face of a sweeper.
Finally, she can help attack with Hazoret the Fervent, as she produces mana to empty your hand more quickly.
Lastly, Rampaging Ferocidon can definitely see play in Ramunap Red. This is basically a 3-mana 3/3 with three awesome abilities in this deck. The biggest problem is that it’s weak to red removal, trading down in mana for potentially no gain. This card gets a lot more appealing if a token strategy or a deck like Vampires with a lot of lifelinking creatures is prevalent in the metagame. In the end, it may be a solid sideboard option, but I can see it being even a main deck 4-of in Ramunap Red if the conditions are right.
Ramunap Red looks almost as strong right now as it did in 8-set Standard. That’s insane. If it gets another good 1-drop creature, yikes.
U/W God-Pharaoh's Gift
Now for my favorite deck from last season: God-Pharaoh's Gift.
Here’s an example post-rotation U/W God-Pharaoh's Gift deck list:
With the new rotation, the Jeskai version I piloted at both GP Denver and GP D.C. doesn’t seem like the right way to go. Insolent Neonate was a huge reason this deck functioned as it did, and a big reason you could afford to rely so heavily on Gate to the Afterlife.
U/W God-Pharaoh's Gift doesn’t lose much, however. In fact, the most devastating loss is Thraben Inspector, which wasn’t a high impact card in this deck and functioned more as a cheap creature to chump with, only to go to the graveyard for Gate to the Afterlife while replacing itself with a Clue.
Chart a Course is basically Tormenting Voice with upside. I didn’t particularly like Cathartic Reunion in the Jeskai God-Pharaoh's Gift deck because it required you to discard before you drew, and it was a huge liability against Negate.
Chart a Course not only allows you to dig first, then discard with the information of what you drew, it also doesn’t have discard as part of the cost.
Original versions of this deck had Strategic Planning as a way to both get creatures and God-Pharaoh's Gift into the graveyard, while Chart a Course does the same thing, but better. Chart a Course essentially gives you access to more cards to put a Gift into the graveyard because you can discard one from your hand or find one in the top two cards of your deck to discard it.
If you want, you could definitely play both Strategic Planning and Chart a Course, but that leaves less room for creatures, so this build would likely want to remove Gate to the Afterlife entirely, a card that isn’t necessarily that important, but certainly gives you more explosiveness and redundancy.
This deck should likely be playing Aether Hub for Minister of Inquiries, and in doing so you could enable a splash for The Scarab God or Hostage Taker as well. I could even see a copy of Vona, Butcher of Magan making its way into the deck as it’s another lifelinking, vigilance creature in addition to Angel of Invention.
One of the cards I think might be awesome for U/W God-Pharaoh's Gift, though likely more so in theory than in practice, is Sorcerous Spyglass.
Sorcerous Spyglass is a countermeasure for graveyard hate. It shuts off Scavenger Grounds, Sentinel Totem, and Crook of Condemnation. It even shuts off The Scarab God's activated ability. In a pinch, you can Refurbish it back from the graveyard. Sorcerous Spyglass also has the added benefit of shutting off Vehicles or planeswalkers when necessary. I’ll definitely want to see if the theory pans out.
I considered Siren Stormtamer while reading through previews. I ultimately think it won’t be good enough, but it does have some merit. The biggest issue is that it can’t protect your God-Pharaoh's Gift from an Abrade, but it can protect an Angel of Invention in play, or even counter a Dispossess. If the deck leans more heavily on Refurbish and isn’t playing Gate to the Afterlife, though, it’s not as important to keep a high creature count.
Lastly, Spell Pierce is the go-to replacement for Dispel. Pierce is a little less reliable but also more flexible, so I see it as a downgrade for this deck specifically, but not by that much. You might even be able to pick off a Sentinel Totem on the play.
God-Pharaoh's Gift decks will be on everyone’s radar early in the format. I’m not sure how good it will be, but I’ll definitely be trying it out.
I’ll refrain from talking much about control because Gabriel Nassif, a much more controlling wizard than I, has already done a nice layout for the archetype here.
I will say that I think the addition of Carnage Tyrant, Duress, and Spell Pierce hurt the archetype more than I think it’s being helped by Opt and more removal options, so I'm not excited about it at this point in time.
All in all, Ixalan has some interesting implications for the older decks of the format. I’m really excited to see the remaining cards in the set so that I can start brewing and thinking about Limited. I’m most excited to try building some tribal decks, but I’ll also keep my eyes peeled for cards that may help some of these older archetypes as well. Let me know what decks you think will be the best positioned after rotation.