It’s almost here. Yeah, Guilds of Ravnica is right around the corner, but I’m more excited to see Kaladesh rotate. As someone who plays a lot of Magic, I really enjoy change. Kaladesh was one of the most powerful sets ever printed, while some of the cards left behind never got to see much play.
Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan are sets that have some powerful cards, but most fall a little short. Because of this, it felt like we played the same decks for two years, while one card got banned, and then another.
I’m excited to cool off the power level a little, and play some cards that were kept in check by the power level of cards printed before them. I want to talk a little bit about some of the cards that may emerge as Standard playable, or Standard staples, once the context of the format changes.
When a set rotates, I like to start looking at cards that looked good at first but faded away, or another card occupied its space in deckbuilding. I search my Magic Online collection, or paper collection, and make sure I have copies of cards that might go up in value or I might need later. For instance, I remember seeing Regisaur Alpha for a dollar and bought them immediately. I knew they were unlikely to see much play in the current Standard metagame, but being one of the stronger cards in Ixalan overall meant it’s likely to see some play after rotation. Just by managing my collection, I start to think about the contexts of new formats.
Some of the most egregious offenders in power level disparity in current Standard are cards like Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Glorybringer, Torrential Gearhulk, Heart of Kiran, Scrapheap Scrounger, and Abrade.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance makes a card like Shalai, Voice of Plenty worse and a card like Vance’s Blasting Cannons worse. Chandra occupies deck space that Vance’s Blasting Cannons could have occupied by doing what it does better, and it was oppressive against opposing 4-drops it could Flametongue Kavu. It could eat Shalai and leave behind a planeswalker, making the player casting Shalai, Voice of Plenty feel pretty miserable about the exchange. This, coupled with Glorybringer, made expensive creatures with 4 toughness or less basically unplayable if they didn’t provide other value. Shalai, Voice of Plenty had a minor amount of success early on, and then faded into obscurity because of how popular the red cards were.
Abrade had a similar effect. Usually, artifacts are pretty difficult to deal with, and having artifact removal in your deck comes at a cost. I remember the days when some people played Dissenter’s Deliverance for Smuggler’s Copter, Heart of Kiran, and Aetherworks Marvel. It was necessary to print Abrade to keep those cards in check. This ended up having a potentially undesired effect on the format because artifacts became a liability, as they’d turn on your opponent’s Abrades.
Artifacts, especially expensive ones that traded down with Abrade on mana, were liabilities. God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks had some success, but were largely held in check by Abrade. While this was likely a good thing for the format, as the God-Pharaoh’s Gift strategy was pretty broken for Standard, Abrade made playing decks focused on artifacts or a key artifact sub-optimal strategies.
Without Abrade, cards like Treasure Map, Weatherlight, and Azor’s Gateway can see play. I can only imagine fueling Nexus of Fate with a flipped Azor’s Gateway and a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. With Heart of Kiran, Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, and Aethersphere Harvester gone, Weatherlight can become a way to decrease exposure to sweepers, while also adding power to the battlefield and churning out additional value.
Speaking of Nexus of Fate, I remember seeing a tweet from Zac Elsik talking about how great Jaya Ballard and Nexus of Fate could be together, and I think this is definitely worth exploring post-rotation. Jaya can both find more copies of Nexus of Fate and help cast them to use other mana on those extra turns. This is in addition to working toward a potentially game-ending ultimate.
With a lot of powerful cards leaving Standard, we need to look for cards that replace them on the mana curve as well. Regisaur Alpha got a ton of hype when Ixalan was released, but didn’t see much play because Glorybringer was in the same spot on the curve and didn’t require two colors of mana. With Glorybringer gone, we may see Regisaur Alpha as a build-around card, which means we may see more Dinosaurs like Ripjaw Raptor, and Commune with Dinosaurs becomes excellent in a shell like this. A deck doesn’t need to be all Dinosaurs, but a reasonable amount of them can make Commune useful.
Demanding Dragon is also a potentially great fill in at 5 mana for red. On a clean battlefield it acts as a Thundermaw Hellkite, and will always get some amount of value attached to the 5/5 body. Speaking of Dragons, if we see any more, there’s a strong possibility that Sarkhan, Fireblood could see play. We have Demanding Dragon and Verix Bladewing to use Sarkhan’s mana on, and then of course all of the Elder Dragons like Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner. Verix Bladewing kicked is a fine card, similar to Broodmate Dragon. While its unkicked mode is lackluster, it’s still a way to utilize a powerful planeswalker in Sarkhan. This type of deck, while likely inferior to current red builds, might be good once a more streamlined approach rotates out. Though, Rekindling Phoenix could still just be so good that you don’t want to worry about any kinds of synergies in your red decks still.
Red, as we know, is losing a lot. It’s very clearly the most powerful color in Standard right now with cards like Hazoret the Fervent, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Rekindling Phoenix, Glorybringer, and of course Goblin Chainwhirler. While Goblin Chainwhirler isn’t going anywhere, the rotation of many powerful red cards, and easy-to-play artifacts like Scrapheap Scrounger, will make the Chainwhirler more difficult to play, in theory, and thus, 1-toughness creatures may not be as big of a liability as they are in today’s Standard. In fact, even Walking Ballista is going away, a card that also punishes 1-toughness creatures while sliding into many decks. While cards like Champion of Wits, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, and Toolcraft Exemplar are rotating, a card that seemed very good to most at first look, Legion’s Landing, was mostly taken off of the map when Goblin Chainwhirler rose to prominence. We may see Legion’s Landing have a resurgence after rotation, especially alongside History of Benalia.
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants looked fairly weak to me within the context of Standard. But when rotation happens, cards like Ajani start to look much better. Pairing it with History of Benalia, a card that didn’t see much success after its initial hype, is a good proactive game plan for a new Standard format that doesn’t have many. I could very easily see this combination of cards becoming the core of aggressive white decks.
I could also see History of Benalia picking up some steam because of the Selensya Guild in Guilds of Ravnica. Paired with convoke, cards that create multiple creatures are obviously extremely effective. With Impervious Greatwurm released as the Buy-a-Box Promo, we know that convoke will be a feature of the set.
Vraska, Relic Seeker, a card that I can personally endorse as it helped me lock up my third Pro Tour Top 8 at Pro Tour Ixalan, is a card that we haven’t seen much of because, well, green kind of sucked against Glorybringer, Rekindling Phoenix, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance after Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner were banned. Vraska is still a potent planeswalker that is good from both ahead and behind, with a high loyalty and the ability to protect itself. I expect to see more and more of Vraska, as it’s one of the best planeswalkers left after rotation outside of Karn, Scion of Urza and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
Ravenous Chupacabra and Hostage Taker also got a lot of hype early. While they’ve seen some play, I think that they’re both capable of making a huge resurgence with rotation. Jadelight Ranger fits this bill as well. The format should slow down a bit without a high density of aggressive creatures, which potentially will make the format more about grinding and having creatures that provide immediate value. Dire Fleet Daredevil is also in this camp. It’s a value creature that got pushed out of relevance by Goblin Chainwhirler and potentially better options. It may see some playing time again in a smaller format that is less hateful toward 1-toughness creatures.
If the format turns to more of a midrangey, grind-it-out format, Profane Procession is an impressive option. Profane Procession has the ability to completely take over a game on its own. It’s fairly difficult to interact with and opponents are put in a tough squeeze between deciding whether to play right into it and hoping the game is still winnable if it flips, or the other option of never playing creatures again. This card felt incredibly powerful for me while testing W/B Knights earlier this Standard season, and when played against me when I was on R/B Aggro. I can definitely see Profane Procession having some kind of impact after rotation.
I think it’s an excellent exercise to dig through lists of cards that may have missed their time to shine to figure out how they line up within the context of the new format. I especially think this is useful when the power level of the rotating set is much higher than the sets that will remain in Standard. Once cards go from being pushed to being more carefully designed, that’s the kind of situation where you are more likely to see cards that were once too weak break out in a new format.
What cards from last Standard are you hoping will break out? What card do you think will go from bulk box to format staple? Let me know below!