Which Cards Get Better Post-Rotation?

Feature Article from Lukas Blohon
Lukas Blohon
9/18/2017 11:02:00 AM
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Hello everyone! My name is Lukas Blohon and I am very excited to be writing for TCGplayer.com. In my first article, I would like to look into Standard rotation, what can we expect from it, and which cards might get played some more with less sets. With that said, let's get started!

With upcoming huge changes in Standard—four out of eight sets rotating—we will see a whole new Standard. We get Ixalan, so we will have five sets, but that is still much different than an eight-set Standard. What can we expect from Ixalan Standard? Generally speaking, the more sets available to choose cards from, the faster the metagame is. In Vintage and Legacy, for example, players win on turn one. Modern is generally thought of as a turn three/four format and Standard is something like turn five/six, unless there is some broken combo that ends the game on turn four (those are usually banned: Felidar Guardian/Saheeli Rai, Aetherworks Marvel/Eldrazi). You can look at Standard with more/less sets similarly, but the difference is obviously less striking than the difference between formats. There are two main things that I think are important to look at considering speed of a new format.

One-Drops

Mid
Low
 Toolcraft Exemplar
$0.47
$0.05
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OMG Squad 1 $0.08
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Looking at current Standard, the most aggressive decks are Ramunap Red and Mardu Vehicles. Both try to pressure opponents from the first turn. One deck is monocolored with as many as 12 one-drops; the other is a three-color deck with a one-mana three-power creature: Toolcraft Exemplar. With fewer sets, it is hard to get that many good one-drops in one color or a good enough manabase to support them in multicolor decks (it's also harder to have enough good, cheap artifacts to support Toolcraft Exemplar). And now Falkenrath Gorger and Village Messenger are rotating out of Standard. Village Messenger is not even played in some versions of Ramunap Red, but Falkenrath Gorger is very important for the deck to be able to go under other decks game one. With only Bomat Courier and Soul-Scar Mage as good one-drops, it will be much harder to get those fast hands that could beat opponents before they even had chance to play most of their cards, which was why people were afraid of this deck in the first place. Mardu Vehicles (and most white decks) lose Thraben Inspector. This one was especially important, because it provided a noncreature artifact, making it difficult to remove, helping you with your synergies – mainly Toolcraft Exemplar and Spire of Industry. Without a card like this, I think Mardu Vehicles will have to change as a deck and most likely slow down.

#2: Manabases

Another important aspect of what are we capable of doing in the new format and how fast it can be are manabases. Creature-lands (Wandering Fumarole & co.) are rotating, and so are the Battle for Zendikar lands (Prairie Stream, et al) and the Shadows over Innistrad lands (Port Town and friends). In exchange, we get check-lands (Glacial Fortress, et al). What does that mean for Standard? We will have less dual lands, but most importantly, none of those dual lands enters the battlefield untapped on turn one. That means that building allied two-color aggro deck with one-drops from both colors will be pretty much impossible unless you can make Aether Hub work. The only dual-lands that come into play untapped are the enemy-colored fast lands (Concealed Courtyard & co.). You can theoretically build one drop-aggro decks from those colors, but with only one dual-land in those colors (again, not counting Aether Hub), it is not going to be easy. If aggro decks are not pressuring you from turn one, the only thing that means is that the format is slowing down.

What does that mean? What decks should we expect?

I believe that if you are not pressured as much as before and the format's endgame (remember, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger rotates too) gets worse, midrange decks will thrive. Green midrange creatures, expensive Planeswalkers, value cards—all of that should get better. Control is naturally good against those decks, but Ixalan provides us with amazing threat against those (Carnage Tyrant), so I don't think those will be that popular. With that assumption in mind, there are some cards that I think will get better.

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Low
 Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
$8.49
$4.70
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The ultimate trump in midrange matchups. Unless you are playing countermagic or have a discard spell, it is pretty much impossible to deal with Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh without losing multiple cards. Its +1 ability decimates your opponents' resources quickly, and even when answered with a removal spell, it still nets you two cards. Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh is slow and won't get you back into game if you are behind by a lot, but is one of the best cards to close the game if the board state is even. Dark Intimations is a great value card, providing a four for one. It's power level is not high, but under right circumstances (lots of midrange mirrors) I can see it being a nice fit. Its trigger is nice, but unfortunately not very good and relevant, but still a nice bonus if you are playing Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh.

Mid
Low
 Gonti, Lord of Luxury
$0.71
$0.30
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Tophat Cards 2 $0.37
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MaelstromNexus 4 $0.44
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This legendary Aetherborn already saw some play, mostly in sideboards of black-green delirium decks. The key to making him work is to make good use of his 2/3 deathtouch body. If big ground creatures are popular, I can see him making a comeback. Ixalan, a set where one of the themes is dinosaurs, will get released soon. Isn't that exactly what Gonti, Lord of Luxury is looking for? Energy creatures, mainly Longtusk Cub and Bristling Hydra, are also very good news for the Aetherborn. Temur Energy is also one of the best decks now; nothing, barring a few lands, rotates from it. Gonti is a great value card that is easy to get a two-for-one from in slower matchups and makes any graveyard recursion just filthy. Unfortunately one of his best friends, Liliana, the Last Hope is rotating, but Liliana, Death's Majesty might be good enough to see play and works even better, albeit for more mana that the three-mana version.

Mid
Low
 Doomfall
$0.35
$0.16
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A favorite card of mine. Modal spells are great because they give you options and are useful in most situations. What kept Doomfall from not being played was, in my opinion too many one-drops. If your opponent has Thraben Inspector, the Cruel Edict part of it suddenly doesn't look very good and if you are behind on board you don't want to spend your turn playing Coercion. But if decks are slower and people are investing their mana in hard-to-remove threats like Carnage Tyrant or Ripjaw Raptor, Edict effects are something you will be very happy to have. It should be no surprise that discard spells are great in any slower matchups, because they help you progress your game plan and disrupt your opponents.

Mid
Low
 Cut // Ribbons
$0.64
$0.30
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I think this is a very powerful card that was played as one- or two-of in some decks, mostly complementing other removal spells, but didn't find it's home as four-of. I believe now that we have less cards to work, with cards like this might get more popular; if black-red pirates become a thing, Cut // Ribbons could be one of the strongest cards in the deck. Competition for removal spells at the 1R slot is tough, but if we are playing black and are at least somewhat aggressive, having Fireball tacked on to your two-mana removal spell is amazing. One thing that might count against Cut//Ribbons is that people are not playing that many expensive four-toughness creatures because Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer (killing Glorybringer with sorcery-speed removal usually just means that damage is already done) make them look silly, so you would rather have Abrade or Lightning Strike. But if there are some good two- or three-mana creatures with four toughness that demand an answer fast, Cut // Ribbons might be exactly what the doctor ordered.

Mid
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 Angel of Sanctions
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A powerful white five drop that unfortunately suffers from two problems. First is that it had to compete with one of the most powerful white cards, Archangel Avacyn, but that is no longer the case. Secondly, it dies to Glorybringer, which is still a big deal. Sequence of playing Angel of Sanctions on turn five into your opponent playing Glorybringer is simply not a winning play. Good thing is that it still has embalm, so if you can Withstand that tempo loss, you will come out of that exchange as the winner by killing (most likely) that Glorybringer. You can pair this with something like Authority of Consuls or newly-printed Kinjalli's Sunwing (which seems pretty bad, to be honest), so you don't suffer such a huge tempo loss after you play the white flier. Chandra, Torch of Defiance is another good answer to Angel of Sanctions, so red's premium cards are good answers to it. But other than that, especially if you can protect it, either with countermagic, discard, or playing creatures that require answers before, you get a great card that answers pretty much anything. Having embalm means that it has extra value in decks that can mill themselves, which is something to keep in mind. Anointed Procession also works wonders with the embalm ability.

Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions let me know in comments or on Twitter: @LukasBlohon.

Lukas Blohon




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