The Winners and Losers of Standard Rotation

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
8/30/2017 11:01:00 AM
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It feels like forever since we have had a Standard rotation, but it is finally happening! I have enjoyed the current Standard format since the release of Hour of Devastation, but that doesn't mean the rotation isn't exciting. Some of the cards that have been around for a while, especially those from Battle for Zendikar like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. These cards have seen tons of play throughout the last couple years, from the likes of Aetherworks Marvel decks to Mardu Vehicles.

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Still, we aren't losing cards that are too powerful for the format, as the format is in a healthy place. As with any rotation, some decks will be invalidated completely by losing too many important cards. Other decks may survive the rotation, but lose an important card or two. Then there will be the decks that lose very little and will be very well set up. I'm going to go over which decks fall into each category.

Zombies - Loser

Zombies is likely the single biggest loser from the rotation. This has been one of the top decks for the last few months. New Zombie cards from Amonkhet like Lord of the Accursed and Liliana's Mastery are what helped Zombies break through, but the majority of the cards are still from Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon. Unless there are tons of new Zombies printed, which doesn't seem to be the case, there is just no way the Zombies deck survives the rotation.

I recommend for decks like this that are going to Disappear, go ahead and sell those Zombie staples while the cards are still worth something, it never feels good after a rotation to have a ton of worthless Rares and Mythics.

Ramp - Loser

Red-Green Ramp and other variants are definitely going to take a hit. Recently, Hour of Promise gave these strategies a great new tool that put the strategies back on the map, but now there won't be big Eldrazi creatures to ramp into. Without Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and World Breaker, the finishers seem much less impressive. Perhaps there will be some Dinosaurs in Ixalan that can help replace these fatties, but I'm not overly optimistic.

Outside the loss of the finishers, Kozilek's Return is also leaving. This deck could still play Sweltering Suns, but having double red on turn three could be a bit of an issue. Kozilek's Return has been the best way of stopping an early creature assault. Hour of Devastation is still a good sweeper, but five mana is quite expensive for a sweeper. The last piece of the deck that is leaving is Weirding Wood, which has always been a nice way to get some value back from a ramp card.

Black-Green Constrictor - Loser

Black-Green Constrictor is actually losing a ton of cards. Hissing Quagmire, Grasp of Darkness, Traverse the Ulvenwald, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, Sylvan Advocate, Catacomb Sifter, and the list goes on! The deck is really losing too many important pieces to recover. I expect that players will move towards the energy version of this deck. The core of Winding Constrictor, Verdurous Gearhulk and Walking Ballista remains intact, and there are still plenty of energy creatures to surround them with. There should be some replacements in Ixalan for some of the lost pieces here, but without Grasp of Darkness, Hazoret the Fervent becomes a huge issue.

Eldrazi - Loser

Eldrazi decks are of course HUGE losers, as the Eldrazi creatures are rotating out. This will also make Deserts and other colorless producing lands a bit less important overall. There will also not be as many single-color decks, as many of them currently play Eldrazi creatures. The only single-color deck that will definitely sick around is Ramunap Red.

White-Blue Monument - Loser

The time has come to say goodbye to Spell Queller. One of those cards that is extremely annoying to play against, Spell Queller has a high enough power level it will still see play in Modern. Most of the other creatures here are rotating as well. There really is no way this deck stays together. Maybe there will be a bunch more white creatures printed over the next couple sets that Oketra's Monument still sees play, but I doubt it.

Mardu Vehicles - Staying Alive?

Mardu Vehicles is losing a couple cards. I expect that we will see Mardu Vehicles stick around to some extent, or at least have some Vehicles deck featuring the likes of Toolcraft Exemplar and Heart of Kiran in the new Standard format. Thraben Inspector leaving the format is a huge loss, though. This was one of the best ways to create a cheap artifact, and Mardu Vehicles really needs to try to keep its artifact count up in order to turn on cards like Unlicensed Disintegration, Toolcraft Exemplar and Spire of Industry. There is no great replacement for Thraben Inspector, and it doesn't appear Ixalan will be a set with lots of artifacts in it.

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Beyond Thraben Inspector, we also have heavy hitters leaving in the form of Archangel Avacyn and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Archangel Avacyn leaving the deck isn't a big deal, as we have already been seeing Mardu Vehicles decks running Glorybringer instead. However, Gideon, Ally of Znedikar has long been considered one of the best cards in this deck. While the powerful planeswalker hasn't seemed as important in Mardu Vehicles lately, it is still pretty huge. It provides another angle of attack, and allows the deck to go more controlling after sideboard.

These are some pretty big hits for Mardu Vehicles. I expect that whatever deck does end up playing the aggressive creatures that aren't rotating will have a lower curve, and potentially cut one of the colors. Having bad mana isn't worth it once the deck starts to lose some power. Also, a deck full of fast lands won't work well with alongside Dragonskull Summit, so the mana isn't getting better.

Jeskai God-Pharoah's - Gift-Staying Alive?

The Blue-Red God-Pharaoh's Gift deck has recently moved towards being Jeskai. The core cards like God-Pharaoh's Gift, Gate to the Afterlife and the big creatures to target with Gift will remain in the format. The reasons why this deck will get worse is the loss of Insolent Neonate. Insolent Neonate is one of the most important creatures in the deck, as a way to both put a creature in the graveyard and help loot through the deck.

There certainly will be cards that can replace Insolent Neonate, though inevitably they will not be as good. The question will be if the loss of Insolent Neonate hurts the deck enough to cause players to not play it. This may become a case of whether players are prepared for God-Pharaoh's Gift, if they aren't it still is a good way to take a tournament by surprise.

Ramunap Red - Winner

Ramunap Red is losing Incendiary Flow and Falkenrath Gorger. These losses aren't enough to keep Ramunap Red out of the format. There have been lists that aren't Incendiary Flow recently, but it is definitely a loss. Sometimes you really want to be able to exile an opposing creature and Magma Spray isn't a great main deck option here. The loss of Falkenrath Gorger also isn't a huge deal, as some versions of Ramunap Red are already down to only eight one-drops. Soul-Scar Mage and Falkenrath Gorger aren't that different in power level.

Temur Energy (and other Energy decks) - Winner

It makes a lot of sense that energy decks will be winners after the rotation. After all, none of the energy cards will be leaving the format! That is actually pretty scary to think about considering how good these creatures are, and Harnessed Lightning is one of the best removal spells in the format. Outside of Temur Energy, there are also decks like Red-Green Pummeler and Black-Green Energy as well.

Losing a few sideboard cards is nothing compared to what some of the other decks in the format are going to be dealing with. Temur Energy is also a deck that is pretty flexible, so it can adapt its sideboard based on what's available, and has access to three colors worth of cards. The only good news is that there shouldn't be any more strong energy cards printed in Ixalan.

Gearhulk Control - Winner

There are a few different control decks that have been doing well recently. Blue-Black Control and Blue-Red Control are mostly straightforward control decks with countermagic, removal and Torrential Gearhulk as a finisher. It is surprising how little the control decks are losing, considering the biggest loss to the Blue-Red Control deck is Wandering Fumarole. Wandering Fumarole definitely was another incentive to play red, as it gives you another low-cost win condition.

The core here is still staying intact, though the card draw and counters are blue based. It could be with the loss of Wandering Fumarole we see more of Blue-Black Control featuring The Scarab God as another win condition. That is a deck that has already been starting to pick up popularity.

White-Blue Approach - Winner

The other way to win with a control deck is simply casting Approach of the Second Sun. This is a relatively new deck, but one that has proved it's the real deal. In a format where there aren't many answers for Approach of the Second Sun, or players aren't playing the answers that are available, this deck makes a ton of sense. Many of the same blue card draw spells from the more typical control decks are ported into this deck. The deck really doesn't lose anything, as Stasis Snare isn't super important when there are already four Cast Outs.

In Review

There are a surprising amount of decks that lose very little. Most of the decks fall into the category of losing close to nothing, or losing way too many cards to be able to exist post rotation, which is pretty unusual. Of course, this list doesn't factor in how Ixalan helps or hurts these decks, as it is mere speculation, with only a small amount of the Ixalan cards previewed at this point.

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield




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