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Post-Rotation Standard Format Analysis
Feature Article from Craig Wescoe
Craig Wescoe
8/16/2013 10:01:00 AM
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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

Lands

Clifftop Retreat, Dragonskull Summit, Drowned Catacombs, Glacial Fortress, Hinterland Harbor, Isolated Chapel, Rootbound Crag, Sulfur Falls, Sunpetal Grove, Woodland Cemetery

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.

Alchemist's Refuge, Desolate Lighthouse, Gavony Township, Grim Backwoods, Kessig Wolf Run, Moorland Haunt, Nephalia Drownyard, Slayers' Stronghold, Stensia Bloodhall, Vault of the Archangel

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.

Cavern of Souls

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.

White

Restoration Angel

Alongside Snapcaster Mage and Augur of Bolas, this rotation will leave a huge opening for overshadowed cards to step up and potentially become all-stars.

Champion of the Parish
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Silverblade Paladin
Sublime Archangel

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.

Oblivion Ring

Detention Sphere is an adequate replacement for Oblivion Ring in Azorius decks, but if non-creature threats require an answer from non-Azorius white decks, Banisher Priest will prove insufficient. Fortunately there is Pithing Needle and Ratchet Bomb, unlike the format where Jace the Mind Sculptor and Gideon Jura ran Amok unchecked.

Lingering Souls

Intangible Virtue and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad are also rotating, as are half the cards in the Aristocrat decks, so Lingering Souls wouldn't have the support cards anyway. Still, it's a big card to rotate.

Terminus

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.

Faith's Shield is replaced by Brave the Elements.
Fiend Hunter is replaced by Banisher Priest.

Also worth noting: Doomed Traveler, War Falcon, Elite Inquisitor, Gather the Townsfolk, Knight of Glory, Intangible Virtue, Nearheath Pilgrim, Nevermore, Angel of Jubilation, Rhox Faithmender, Riders of Gavony, and Entreat the Angels are rotating.

Blue

Augur of Bolas
Snapcaster Mage
Think Twice

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.

Invisible Stalker
Spectral Flight

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.

Also rotating: Delver of Secrets, Thought Scour, Unsummon, Dissipate, Forbidden Alchemy, and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage.

Black

Liliana of the Veil

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.

Unburial Rites

Junk Reanimator must look elsewhere for a lategame card advantage engine. It's like every opponent gets to start with Rest in Peace in play. The most likely candidate to replace Unburial Rites is probably Garruk, Caller of Beasts.

Diregraf Ghoul
Gravecrawler
Geralf's Messenger

Aggressive black decks still have options, but the zombie theme is no longer one of them.

Tragic Slip
Tribute to Hunger
Victim of Night
Barter in Blood
Mutilate
Sever the Bloodline
Curse of Death's Hold

As with every rotation, the removal changes. Doom Blade and Devour Flesh will have to pull more weight than they are currently pulling. Ultimate Price may also become playable again.

Also rotating: Blood Artist, Skirsdag High Priest, Knight of Infamy, Sign in Blood, Vampire Nighthawk, Disciple of Bolas, and Griselbrand.

Red

Thundermaw Hellkite
Zealous Conscripts
Hellrider

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.

Pillar of Flame
Searing Spear

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.

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Bonfire of the Damned

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.

Other noteworthy cards rotating include: Harvest Pyre, Faithless Looting, Stromkirk Noble, Ancient Grudge, Desperate Ravings, Lightning Mauler, Volcanic Strength, and Brimstone Volley.

Green

Arbor Elf
Avacyn's Pilgrim
Farseek

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.

Thragtusk

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.

Rancor
Flinthoof Boar
Strangleroot Geist

While these threats are current the best available, they are hardly irreplaceable.

Also rotating: Ground Seal, Young Wolf, Mayor of Avabruck, Mulch, Elvish Archdruid, Predator Ooze, Wolfir Avenger, Garruk Relentless, Yeva, Nature's Herald, Acidic Slime, Garruk, Primal Hunter, Wolfir Silverheart, and Craterhoof Behemoth.

Multicolor

Olivia Voldaren
Huntmaster of the Fells

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.

Geist of Saint Traft

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.

Falkenrath Aristocrat

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.

Also rotating: Sorin, Lord of Innistrad and Sigarda, Host of Herons.


Part 2 of 2: Key Cards and Strategies Surviving Rotation

Lands

Blood Crypt, Breeding Pool, Godless Shrine, Hallowed Fountain, Overgrown Tomb, Sacred Foundry, Steam Vents, Stomping Ground, Temple Garden, Watery Grave

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.

Encroaching Wastes replaces Ghost Quarter, but without the Nephalia Drownyard cycle, lands will likely not need to be destroyed. Mutavault will pretty much be the only utility land, barring sweet utility lands in Theros.

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Mutavault

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.

White

Brave the Elements

As it stands, this looks to be the best white card in Standard and the primary incentive to play a white aggressive deck. It answers Mizzium Mortars, though not Supreme Verdict. White decks will have to pack answers to that card as well. Perhaps Rootborn Defenses? Legion's Initiative? Boros Charm? Sin Collector / Duress?

Imposing Sovereign
Precinct Captain

With Thalia, Guardian of Thraben rotating, along with Knight of Glory, I expect Imposing Sovereign to be the best white two-drop in Standard. Precinct Captain may also finally see his day in the sun as he is currently next in line in the depth chart.

Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Banisher Priest
Boros Reckoner
Fiendslayer Paladin
Frontline Medic
Path of Bravery
Rootborn Defenses

These are currently the best options for white decks at three mana. With Oblivion Ring, Geist of Saint Traft, and Silverblade Paladin rotating, there is some room for cards like Frontline Medic to see more play. Without Thalia providing a nombo with Ajani, the planeswalker is better positioned than ever to see play. I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes the new Silverblade Paladin.

Gideon, Champion of Justice

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.

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Angel of Serenity

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.

Boros Elite
Dryad Militant
Judge's Familiar

With Champion of the Parish and Doomed Traveler rotating, this is what we have left to work with. If there is not a stellar white one-drop in Theros, this may Foreshadow a Drought in the careers of Paul Rietzl and myself. Come on, Steppe Lynx, one time!

Also worth noting: Blind Obedience, Celestial Flare, Daring Skyjek, Renounce the Guilds, Rest in Peace, Sentinel Sliver, Syndic of Tithes, Angelic Accord, Archangel of Thune, and Scion of Vitu-Ghazi survive rotation.

Blue

AEtherling

This is still the premier finisher for blue decks. Without Cavern, it will be easier to answer. There is no Nephalia Drownyard, Snapcaster Mage, or Restoration, so if a blue deck wants to win some way other than AEtherling, it would have to rely on… Jace, Memory Adept? Jace actually sounds pretty good as an alternative in condition to AEtherling.

Divination
Jace, Architect of Thought
Jace, Memory Adept
Opportunity
Sphinx's Revelation

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?

Dispel
Cancel
Syncopate
Render Silent
Counterflux

These are the counters that survive rotation. I expect each of these to see some amount of play. Counters also get better with Cavern of Souls rotating.

Also surviving rotation: Cloudfin Raptor, Galerider Sliver, Sensory Deprivation, Cyclonic Rift, Tidebinder Mage, and Domestication.

Black

Lifebane Zombie

This is the biggest reason to play black. It's unclear at this point what the most enticing threats will be, but on raw power alone, this is positioned to be the best black card in Standard.

Doom Blade
Devour Flesh
Ultimate Price
Abrupt Decay
Putrefy
Dreadbore

These are the cheap one-for-one removal spells in black. Tragic Slip is the biggest one to replace, which should not be hard, as is evidenced by the above list.

Duress

I expect Duress to see a lot of play. It is one of the best answers to most of the control deck's biggest threats (Sphinx's Revelation, both Jaces, and Supreme Verdict). It also can incidentally take out an Azorius Charm or whatever. It can't take AEtherling, but that's about it. Duress alongside Sin Collector may very well be a thing.

Blood Scrivener
Underworld Connections
Liliana of the Dark Realms

These two cards could potentially spike as two of the best black card draw spells available. Without Unburial Rites, Disciple of Bolas, Curse of Death's Hold, Mutilate, or Geralf's Messenger to gain card advantage, these cards (especially Underworld Connections) will be the best ways to play the attrition game and draw into your one-for-one removal and discard spells. Blood Scrivener could be exciting enough of an option to make it worth going hellbent. Also we still have shock lands, so four-color black could become a thing and Liliana of the Dark Realms could be the enabler.

Also surviving rotation: Pack Rat, Festering Newt, Xathrid Necromancer, Blightcaster, Bogbrew Witch, Crypt Ghast, Desecration Demon, Shadowborn Demon, Corrupt, and Rise of the Dark Realms.

Red

Burning Earth

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.

Mizzium Mortars

With Bonfire of the Damned and Blasphemous Act rotating, Mizzium Mortars becomes the best red sweeper in the format. And with Pillar of Flame and Searing Spear rotating, Mizzium Mortars becomes the best cheap red removal spell in the format… Wow! Stop and think about that. Mizzium Mortars may be the most improved card surviving rotation. This is probably the safest investment right now as it will almost assuredly see play regardless of what gets printed in Theros.

Chandra, Pyromaster
Ogre Battledriver
Scourge of Valkas
Wrecking Ogre

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.

Also worth keeping in mind: Shock, Electrickery, Legion Loyalist, Striking Sliver, Ash Zealot, Firefist Striker, Gore-House Chainwalker, Young Pyromancer, Madcap Skills, Skullcrack, Annihilating Fire, Blur Sliver, Chandra's Phoenix, Flames of the Firebrand, Mindsparker, Molten Birth, Pyrewild Shaman, and Thorncaster Sliver.

Green

Elvish Mystic
Experiment One

With Avacyn's Pilgrim and Arbor Elf rotating, these are the premier green openings. I expect this tandem to top many deck lists in upcoming Standard. Dryad Militant may also join them on occasion.

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Scavenging Ooze

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.

Kalonian Hydra
Garruk, Caller of Beasts

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.

Also surviving rotation: Axebane Guardian, Witchstalker, Megantic Sliver, and Primeval Bounty.

Multicolor Cards

Sphinx's Revelation

This will likely be the defining card of Standard, assuming control decks get something to help fix their draws in the early game. Azorius Charm is a good start, but it really needs an Impulse type card. Supreme Verdict, Detention Sphere, Azorius Charm, and possibly Council of the Absolute (naming Sphinx's Revelation) are the noteworthy support cards.

Sire of Insanity
Rakdos's Return

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.

Voice of Resurgence

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.

Domri Rade

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.

Ral Zarek

Unlike Domri Rade, Ral Zarek has not yet had his time. I expect this to change post-rotation. Without a good red four-drop and without a good way to deal three damage (without Searing Spear), Ral Zarek's Lightning Bolt ability becomes much more attractive. I tested a UWR burn deck for PT Gatecrash and Ral Zarek was very powerful in that deck. I expect without Restoration Angel and Snapcaster Mage in Standard for Ral Zarek to be the strongest card for the job. Think Ajani Vengeant.

Vraska the Unseen

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.

Also surviving rotation: Judge's Familiar, Rakdos Cackler, Deathrite Shaman, Dryad Militant, Azorius Charm, Orzhov Charm, Izzet Charm, Golgari Charm, Grisly Salvage, Lotleth Troll, Dreadbore, Abrupt Decay, Cartel Aristocrat, Frostburn Weird, Burning-Tree Emissary, Zhur-Taa Druid, Boros Charm, Call of the Conclave, Selesnya Charm, Lyev Skyknight, Gift of Orzhova, Sin Collector, Nightveil Specter, Izzet Staticaster, Dreg Mangler, Putrefy, Varolz, the Scar-Striped, Boros Reckoner, Loxodon Smiter, Unflinching Courage, Notion Thief, Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch, Rakdos, Lord of Riots, Ghor-Clan Rampager, Tajic, Blade of the Legion, Warleader's Helix, Advent of the Wurm, Trostani, Selesnya's Voice, Master Biomancer, Lavinia of the Tenth, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Obzedat, Ghost Council, Hypersonic Dragon, Thoughtflare, Assemble the Legion, Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius, Ruric Thar, the Unbowed, Aurelia, the Warleader, Collective Blessing, Prime Speaker Zegana, Immortal Servitude, Gaze of Granite, Aurelia's Fury.

Artifacts

Pithing Needle
Ratchet Bomb

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.

Chromatic Lantern and Civic Saber might also see some amount of play.


Conclusion

The biggest change I expect to happen in Standard post-rotation is that Planeswalkers will get much stronger across the board. Most of the cards presently overshadowing Planeswalkers are rotating (Thragtusk, Olivia, Huntmaster, Thundermaw Hellkite, Restoration Angel, Sublime Archangel, Silverblade Paladin, etc.). The removal in general also gets worse with the rotation of Pillar of Flame, Searing Spear, Tragic Slip, Oblivion Ring, Bonfire of the Damned, Snapcaster Mage, Garruk Relentless, etc. This opens up a need for Planeswalkers with removal abilities and ways to generate card advantage.

There are also opportunities for cards like Mizzium Mortars, Lifebane Zombie, Elvish Mystic, Brave the Elements, and AEtherling to become even more prominent players in the metagame due to a lack of competing options available.

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.

Craig Wescoe
@Nacatls4Life on twitter

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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