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The Ixalan Rotation: What We Lose from Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch

Standard rotates when a new block comes out. This is common knowledge. But when Ixalan is released, we will see a large rotation with two blocks consisting of two sets, Battle for Zendikar block and Shadows over Innistrad, leaving. When a new set is released, it’s always awesome to see the new spoilers, and to explore new synergies and combos with the old cards. But with a rotation as large as this, I’d argue that it’s more important to examine which cards are leaving, and what’s no longer suppressed by these cards. That will have the biggest effect. Let’s first go through the staples that are leaving Standard one by one, starting with:

Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch

When a format rotates, the best place to start is the mana. In this case, the battlelands haven’t seen much play since the Kaladesh fastlands were introduced to Standard since they don’t synergize well. The only place they’ve really seen play is in the friendly two-colored decks, namely U/W and G/R. This would be a huge hit for them if not for the return of the old checklands, Glacial Fortress and friends, which are just better.

The departure of creaturelands is huge. Alongside the loss of many other utility lands, it will be harder to find good mana sinks, which mostly hurts midrange decks since they need a lot of mana to cast their expensive threats while getting on the board. The loss of Wandering Fumarole is big for U/R Control, but for a different reason. As of now, U/R only uses Torrential Gearhulk and Wandering Fumarole as win conditions, meaning they will have to dilute their deck with other win conditions when Torrential Gearhulk doesn’t cut it.

The synergy between these four cards has given ramp the kind of inevitability that’s very hard to deal with for midrange and control decks alike. Without these cards to ramp to, it will be too great of a blow for ramp decks to overcome, and so they will most likely not be viable in the new Standard.

The ”small” Eldrazi also rotate alongside Matter Reshaper, Eldrazi Displacer etc. They’ve never been big players in Standard, but it will most likely mean that you won’t see anymore ”mono-colored” midrange decks in Standard.

Transgress the Mind has, since its release, been a heavily played sideboard card, and sometimes even in the main deck. It’s been holding off Emrakul, the Promised End, Collected Company, and Glimmer of Genius and I, for one, will miss this card. Lay Bare the Heart is similar and will probably have to try to fill its shoes. We will see if it’s enough.

White loses its best unconditional removal spell, which isn’t going to change Standard, but it’s going to be harder to rid of Scrapheap Scrounger and the like. It will be harder to build G/W decks in the future, a deck that doesn’t often receive great options for removal.

There’s already Sweltering Suns, but Sweltering Suns is more different than you might think. Sweltering Suns is perfect in a 2-color control deck since it cycles and it’s an effect that a control player usually wants. Radiant Flames is perfect for a 3-color midrange deck where it has the upside of leaving its own creatures with 2 or 3 toughness unscathed while still dealing with a swarm of small creatures. Temur Energy will definitely miss this card.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was once the subject of a discussion about whether it was so good that it should be banned. Lately, with Standard being as big as it is and with more aggressive decks making their way into Standard alongside Glorybringer, we’ve seen less of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. But Gideon has dominated Standard for a long time and dominated it big. Not too long ago, it won 3 out of 4 Pro Tours in the same season. Gideon’s departure will change Standard, likely for the better.

While this has been a part of some ramp strategies in the past, it isn’t present now. What this does is most likely remove Metalwork Colossus as an option in Standard for good. Being able to both produce 2 mana to play another 2-mana artifact the same turn or be used for 2 mana toward a Metalwork Colossus the next turn means it basically counts as 6 mana for your Colossus, which made it the core of the deck. Good riddance!

When Oath of Nissa was first spoiled, some people called it the green Ponder. Well, it’s obviously not that good, but Oath of Nissa has definitely left its mark, being a part of a number of successful decks, especially helping you curve with your double colored planeswalkers in different colors. Oath of Nissa leaving won’t change much, but it will be harder to build planeswalker centric decks and make your mana around that work.

Grasp of Darkness is a huge hit to black decks. Able to kill a diversity of creatures in Archangel Avacyn, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Heart of Kiran, Ahn-Crop Crasher, or Glorybringer at instant speed, it has been a huge boon for black mages all around. As you can see, it addresses heavily played cards in Standard. Sure, Kalitas and Archangel Avacyn will rotate, but with the rest of the gang still around, black mages will have to rethink how they construct their decks.

Kozilek’s Return has been a big part of the Eldrazi decks, whether it’s with World Breaker or Elder Deep-Fiend, as a way to beat both fast, small, creature-based decks as well as midrange decks. It makes any progress from such decks seem futile when it comes back alongside an enormous tentacle monster.

Nissa was a large part of G/W Tokens when it was one of the dominating forces in Standard, but currently is a part of the G/B Snek decks. It’s so powerful in that archetype because it’s easier to time your Winding Constrictor. If you cast the Snake early, it has a large target on its head. If you instead go 2-drop, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar tick up, then Winding Constrictor along with another 2-drop (say Walking Ballista?) and tick down Nissa the same turn, it’s much harder to play around. Why? Because when Nissa hits the battlefield, the opposing side has to pressure it, usually tapping out to play creatures, leaving a window for Winding Constrictor to do its dirty work. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar being gone will be a big hit for the Constrictor decks.

Kalitas has served many purposes over the past year, whether it’s trying to stop the Rally deck (however futile), Prized Amalgam, or fuzzy Cryptolith Rite sacrifice strategies. Lately, it’s also been one of the best ways for black decks to deal with Mono-Red, as its 4 toughness and lifelink has put out a lot of flames. The loss of Kalitas will be big for the red decks.

Chandra, Flamecaller hasn’t ever suppressed or changed the format on its own. But it’s been a good go-to strategy for any ramp or midrange deck that wants a sweeper versus a proactive go-wide strategy, while not losing to grindier cards that come in after sideboard. With sideboarded cards usually being planeswalkers, Chandra, Flamecaller is fantastic at killing them after sweeping the board, or Wheeling your hand to find other ways to deal with it. Not a format staple, but a role player that will be missed!

Check back later this week as I cover Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon, along with the biggest winners and loser from the rotation!

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