I'm the type of person who likes to plan for the future. In the near future Theros will be printed and the Standard format will “rotate.” Innistrad, Dark Ascension, Avacyn Restored, and Magic 2013 will cease to be Standard legal and only Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, Dragon's Maze, Magic 2014, and Theros will be legal. While we presently know very little about Theros, we have full knowledge of the other four sets. Based on this 80% knowledge of future Standard, the aim of this article is to analyze the major changes that will occur at rotation and what to look for in Theros when it is released.
If you're the type that likes to think about the future, this article will give you plenty to think about. If you're also the type that likes to speculate on future card values, this article should give you a heads up as to what you should consider investing in now and also what kinds of cards to look for in Theros. Consider this the early bird article to help you acquire all the worms before the other birds wake up.
Overused clichés aside, the analysis is fairly thorough, so feel free to skip around. The first half focuses on what key cards are rotating out of Standard and the second half focuses on what key cards survive rotation, including which cards will became bigger players than we're currently seeing. Many of tomorrow's all-stars are presently overshadowed by rotating cards, and I pick multiple sleepers to wake up and be format defining cards post-rotation. In the conclusion, I sum up the major changes I expect to happen at rotation, as discussed in detail throughout the article.
Part 1 of 2: Key Cards and Strategies Rotating Out
These ten lands are the biggest rotation. Based on RTR Block's heavy multicolor theme, it seems highly likely that Theros will bring a strong multicolor land cycle. If not, or what is more likely, if it is not a complete cycle all in the first set of the block, then guildgates will have to play a prominent role in Standard for a while. Evolving Wilds is also rotating.
Lands won't do much aside from tapping for mana. Maze's End could see a resurgence if guildgates prove to be the second best option for dual lands. Encroaching Wastes will replace Ghost Quarter, but with Mutavault being the only land threat, it is unlikely that land destruction effects will even be needed anymore.
With the human theme and the zombie theme rotating, Cavern of Souls would mostly be an anti-counter measure instead of a mana-fixer. Without Cavern, AEtherling is less good in the control mirrors, though still the prominent threat in the matchup. Without Cavern, counters in general get better again. They are now reliable answers to threats – except for Loxodon Smiter.
The core of the human theme is all rotating. White will need to find a new premier one-drop and a way to combat control decks, especially since Supreme Verdict and Sphinx's Revelation survive rotation.
Good riddance! Terminus and Bonfire are leaving. There will be no more miracles. You must pay full price if you want to wrath my board! Thalia and Slayers' Stronghold are also rotating though, so the aggro deck will need to find new weapons to combat the control strategies.
Alongside Restoration Angel and Runechanter's Pike, the supporting cast is also all rotating. Of these, Snapcaster Mage is easily the biggest one. Midrange and control blue strategies will lack versatility without the mage and will have to look elsewhere to gain card advantage.
Hexproof decks lose their two biggest threats: Invisible Stalker and Geist of Saint Traft. If the deck survives, it will likely drop blue altogether and be straight Selesnya since these two creatures were the primary incentives to run blue at all. Unless it picks up new weapons in Theros, the deck is likely unplayable.
Fortunately the key hexproof creatures are also rotating, so Liliana's absence will not be felt as keenly as it otherwise would be. It seems Lifebane Zombie is the clearest replacement to Liliana in most strategies – and exchange that might have happened anyway for power-level reasons, regardless of rotation.
Red's curve toppers are all leaving Standard. This will generate a sizeable void that needs filling. None of the options currently in existence are particularly strong, so this is a place we should look to Theros to fill.
Red's two best burn spells are rotating, and Annihilating Fire seems to be the best remaining option for handing Voice of Resurgence. This could pose a serious problem for red decks. Also three-toughness creatures improve now that Shock is the new Searing Spear.
Chinese Taipei will have to look elsewhere if they plan to beat Brian Kibler and the United States post-rotation. This is among the most format-defining rotations that will occur. Blasphemous Act is also rotating, so Mizzium Mortars is now the go-to man for the job.
Without these mana accelerants, green decks will have to adapt. Elvish Mystic will see much more play, but there is a pretty big drop off thereafter. Gyre Sage? Axebane Guardian? Zhur-Taa Druid? This is another place where we will look intently at Theros for a strong replacement.
This is another high-impact rotation. Bant Control and Jund Midrange Rock type decks will have to adapt in some way. This was one of the hardest to deal with cards for aggro decks, alongside Bonfire of the Damned and Terminus. With all three rotating, I'm guessing this favors the aggro decks. Supreme Verdict will likely have to do a lot more work post-rotation, just as it did in RtR block. This may give rise to specific Supreme Verdict answers from aggro decks, such as Rootborn Defenses.
It's the end of the Jund as we know it – AND I FEEL FINE! No more Olivia, no more Huntmaster, no more Thragtusk, no more Bonfire, no more Liliana, no more Farseek, no more Kessig Wolf Run, and no more M13 duals. There will always be a playable rock deck, and Lifebane Zombie will likely be the centerpiece, but the Jund we've become familiar with will be completely different post-rotation.
This and Invisible Stalker make the Hexproof deck mostly unplayable. Azorius aggro decks will likely move toward Lyev Skynight, but that is a pretty significant downgrade, especially without having Champion of the Parish to pump with the Skyknight.
Aristocrats is mostly a graveyard theme deck that is rotating as a whole, but this was one of the best generic red finishers in the format. With Hellrider and Thundermaw Hellkite also rotating, there is a big opening for a big red monster.
These will continue to enable multicolor decks, though without M13 lands (and their Innistrad enemy counterparts), we will need a new cycle in Theros. Otherwise the next best are guildgates, which will favor control strategies much more than aggro decks.
Speaking of which, if multicolor decks get worse due to losing half their dual lands, aggro decks will look to be mono color if possible. Mutavault is a strong incentive to do so. If there is not a full ten-card dual land cycle in Theros, I expect mono colored aggro decks to run rampant and I expect Mutavault to be a 4x in most if not all of said lists.
I played Gideon alongside Ajani in Boros Champions, and without Thalia I could see this shell returning in a big way. With the three big angels rotating (Sublime, Restoration, and Jubilation), Gideon is currently positioned to be the best four-drop white “creature” in the format! And it combos very well with Ajani, another well-positioned card. Gideon is also particularly good against Supreme Verdict, the premier board sweeper in Standard post-rotation. White aggro may take on a planeswalker theme in the near future. All it needs is a killer one-drop from Theros. Pretty much everything else is in place.
Without Unburial Rites and with neutered green mana acceleration, Angel of Serenity's playability will hinge heavily on what is printed in Theros. With that said, if the support cards show up, and all that is needed are generic accelerants or reanimation, Angel of Serenity will be the highest impact card to ramp into and/or Reanimate. There is no more Griselbrand or Craterhoof Behemoth.
With Think Twice and the blue two-drops rotating, blue will need to draw cards in some new way. Divination is about the only cheap way, which does not combo particularly well with counter-magic. Control decks may try to spend the early turns killing creatures before playing Planeswalkers. There is not even a Farseek, so the early setup turns for control decks are currently in a major state of Flux. Will Theros come to the Rescue? Blue certainly has no shortage of 4-5-6-X mana card draw engines. It's the early game that needs fixing. Actual Impulse one time? I suppose Azorius Charm will see a lot of play, but will that be enough?
This is currently the biggest reason to play red, but depending on what lands we find in Theros, it could spell the end of 3+ color decks and hence the end of Burning Earth. If multicolor decks are still viable post-Theros, and I expect them to be, Burning Earth will continue to warp the format. All that is required is a good dual land cycle in Theros, which I find much more likely than not.
These are currently the red curve toppers, aside from Burning Earth. It's unclear which is best, but my inclination is that Ogre Battledriver will take the cake. Without Searing Spear, three-toughness is pretty big. And granting haste is a great way to get around Mizzium Mortars. The problem is that he doesn't do much the turn you play him, unless you can manage to play another creature the same turn. Theros will likely be able to top these four cards, so keep your eyes open for the next Thundermaw Hellkite.
This looks to be the best thing to do on the second turn in a green deck, barring a first turn Elvish Mystic. There is also Gyre Sage, Kalonian Tusker, Manaweft Sliver, Predatory Sliver, Skylasher, and potentially Voracious Wurm, but none of these are as powerful as the Ooze. The Ooze is solid early and great late, especially in a deck filled with removal spells. I expect Gruul and Golgari decks to sport the Ooze as their all-star Grizzly Bear, whether control or aggro. The Ooze is one of the biggest reasons to play green.
With Thragtusk and Garruk, Primal Hunter rotating, along with Wolfir Silverheart, Kalonian Hydra is the most powerful midgame threat in green. Garruk, Caller of Beasts is the best card advantage engine to top the curve. I'm not particularly impressed with either of these since Garruk lacks acceleration and the Hydra is relatively easy to kill without any immediate or lasting advantage (unlike the rotating cards mentioned). Green is hence looking to Theros for a strong curve-topper.
These are the primary Thwarts to the Revelation strategy, with potential help from Duress and/or Sin Collector. Getting these to resolve through counter-magic could prove difficult though. Catching them tapped out when they resolve a Jace could make Rakdos's Return the juicier option since you could Redirect the damage to Jace. Without Cavern of Souls, Sire is likely the second best option of the two.
Quite possibly the best creature in Standard post-rotation, Voice is poised to live in a world free of Pillar of Flame. Since Thalia and Strangleroot Geist are each rotating, Selesnya has a hole in the two-drop slot. Imposing Sovereign and Scavenging Ooze are currently the best fillers for those slots. Voice thus fits in quite nicely. I look forward to having continued success with this card.
As Brian Kibler showed us at Worlds, Domri Rade is the real deal in Gruul. Domri looks to only get better since so many of the other strong options are rotating. I expect Domri Rade to have yet another strong year in standard.
Without Thragtusk filling up this slot in all the green decks, and with Huntmaster of the Fells and Olivia Voldaren Rotating, Vraska's value goes way up. The big question mark is whether there is something better in Theros, which is probably about as likely as not. Maybe 50% to be great and 50% to only be decent.
These are strong answers that all colors have access to. Without Oblivion Ring, I expect white decks to start packing Pithing Needle. With Planeswalkers poised to be big players in Standard, the Needle may prove to be so good that it becomes a maindeck staple for many deck.
Lastly, I expect there to be a dual land cycle in Theros, but if not then Mutavualt could be the most played card in Standard. Guildgates would also be Standard staples. This scenario is unlikely, but it's a possibility to keep in mind.
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Also congrats to Kyle Schreiner for winning the Minneapolis PTQ with the Boros Humans deck I played at Worlds (and wrote about here)!
Lastly, if you have not yet received your Magic Pop Quiz prize, send an email to magicpopquiz at mail dot com with your full name and mailing address, along with how many of the five questions you answered correctly. A couple of them were returned due to wrong addresses. Thanks!
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