Waiting for Standard to rotate is like waiting for Christmas to come. If you’re excited about it, the weeks crawl by at a painful pace; if not, the big day will sneak up on you before you’ve had time to really think about it! But ready or not, we will soon lose half of the current Standard card pool: Guilds of Ravnica, Ravnica Allegiance, War of the Spark and Core Set 2020 will be consigned to the halls of memory, making way for Zendikar Rising and future sets.
We don’t yet know enough about Zendikar Rising to predict its impact on post-rotation Standard. But in terms of raw impact, the next metagame will be far more influenced by the cards leaving Standard — four sets out compared to one set in! That means we can potentially spot the silhouettes of the next big decks among the remaining cards in Standard. We’re better equipped than you might think to anticipate what decks will be making Top 8’s come September!
A WORLD WITHOUT WAR
While we’re only losing half the sets in rotation, the impact feels massive given how much the latest Ravnica “block” has defined Standard. These sets were incredibly powerful — particularly War of the Spark — and their top bombs have dominated the format for their entire tenure. To suddenly lose them would be even more seismic an event had we not already seen a good many of them banned before their time!
Some of the upcoming departures will knock the central pillars out of signature decks, likely signaling the end of the archetype in its current form. Mono-White won’t the quite same without Venerated Loxodon. The WB “Yorion Rats” list is losing its discard-enabling rats, as well as Oath of Kaya — that’s a lot of its best flicker targets. Mono-Black Aggro is about to have half its creatures rotate at once! And while it seems probable there will be elementals in Zendikar Rising, the current iteration of the deck is all from M20: Temur Omnath, Risen Reef, the Cavaliers, all gone.
Other decks might survive in some form, assuming they can replace or adapt beyond the tools they’re losing. Rakdos Sac is dead in its current form without Mayhem Devil, but the Mono-Black build around Fiend Artisan, Ayara, Nightmare Shepherd and Gray Merchant looks like it’s in a great place. Mono-Green and Mono-Red aggro will always be a part of the meta, and will simply shift to include whatever ZNR offers. UW Control will send off Narset, Parter of Veils to join the late Teferi, Time Raveler; players can choose to either adopt Narset of the Ancient Way and her “noncreature spells” package, or perhaps lean more on powerful enchantments from Theros Beyond Death.
SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM
Some aspects of rotation are more wide-reaching, impacting every single deck and brewer. GRN and RNA reprinted the shocklands, continuing a glory period for multi-colored decks in Standard. Even prior to the era of shocks and checks, players had enjoyed checks and cycle lands from Amonkhet, and fastlands from Kaladesh. The supply of easy-to-use, often-untapped dual lands has dried up this year, though, and it’s not clear when we’ll get them back.
If Zendikar Rising doesn’t replace the shocklands with something similar (my guess would be checklands, given the typing on Ikoria’s Triomes), mono-colored decks will gain a larger share of the metagame. Only the greediest archetypes can afford to play two or three colors using multiple tapped Temples and Fabled Passage in the early turns! But a mono-colored meta might not be so bad: there is groundwork for such decks in the adamant mechanic of Eldraine and the devotion cards from Theros. Best of all, Aether Gust and its color-hosing cycle will be rotating out; I think many players have underrated the footprint of these broad, ultra-efficient answers on the current format.
ASCENDING THE THRONE
Rotation is also a great time to re-evaluate the sets that will be staying in Standard. Many cards, themes or archetypes that haven’t measured up will be receiving additional support and may succeed without their old competition.
Large Standard formats like the one we’re about to leave tend to be dominated by “good-stuff” decks, where the focus is on playing only the most powerful cards. This pushes out more synergistic strategies built around set-specific mechanics like mutate, as their pool of usable cards is smaller and of lower quality. Of course, there are exceptions: Lucky Clover decks and the all-in Zenith Flare cycling strategy were metagame players previously. But post-rotation, other decks in this style will have their chance to thrive.
The UR “draw two” theme from Eldraine didn’t make much of a splash so far, despite solid cards like The Royal Scions and Irencrag Pyromancer. But after Core Set 2021 introduced the same mechanic in green, we reached the critical mass for a strong Temur archetype. Card-draw spells and abilities are abundant: cyclers, Uro triggers, and perhaps most powerful of all, M21’s Teferi, Master of Time. The deck is very playable in current Standard, and Narset’s impending departure is just icing on the cake.
I’ve written plenty about Ux Flash decks in my previous columns, but I want to stress again how powerful UB Flash in particular looks for Standard. With two powerful payoffs from Ikoria (Slitherwisp and Cunning Nightbonder), the deck has an incredible selection of flash creatures and permanents to brew with already. It’s also blessed with some unbelievably efficient interaction; if Lofty Denial and Eliminate feel too mainstream, you can try Mystic Subdual and Ashiok’s Erasure to get some extra juice from your flash synergies.
Mutate is an intensely powerful mechanic, and I would be staggered if it fails to generate results in a new, more open Standard. While the dedicated Auspicious Starrix “Mutate Storm” deck and Ux “Mutate Tempo” are both strong enough to keep an eye on, I’d suggest that anyone about to lose a big chunk of their deck consider mutate cards as a way to restructure. The mechanic is just that powerful and versatile. Check out this take on Mono-Red: Everquill Phoenix adds much better finishing power to “Red Weenie” lists than slapping Embercleave on a 1/1!
Knight and Human tribal decks are both nearly viable in current Standard. While I wouldn’t expect either tribe to get explicit support in Zendikar, they are likely to benefit from a few strong creatures. So long as the colors and curves line up, they’ll easily be back in the mix. One thing to note: the return of Nahiri in ZNR means the return of equipment, which benefits both tribes.
The “aura aggro” deck — or Bogles, as some might dub it — got a monumental push in Theros Beyond Death. The cards were so aggressively costed that it seemed Wizards was daring Standard players to stop ignoring cards that read “enchant creature.” So far, that apathy has been resolute, but I expect that to finally change post-rotation. The only question is which colors to play. The core cards are concentrated in green and white, but blue tempts with Staggering Insight and protective counterspells, and black offers the unexpected card advantage of Hateful Eidolon and Demonic Embrace. I’ve personally enjoyed a variant that harnesses main-deck Lurrus to add staying power and juice up the powerful one-drops from M21: Speaker of the Heavens and Archfiend’s Vessel.
This is only a small selection of the themes that non-rotating Standard sets support. Trample-tribal, Flyers, Mill, Reanimator, +1/+1 Counters and Lifegain Matters could all break out with just one great rare from Zendikar Rising.
TITANIC, YET UNSINKABLE
Ugly news for those jank-lovers anticipating the Total Standard Revolution: Uro and Ugin aren’t going anywhere. Despite the loss of Nissa and Hydroid Krasis, the Titan of Nature’s Wrath is fully capable of keeping UGx Ramp at the top in Standard. I fear those who doubt him as the power behind the successive Temur, Bant and Sultai menaces are about to be brutally confronted with the truth: that Uro is possibly the strongest one-card engine ever printed outside of Urza block.
With new land-based mechanics a near-certainty for Zendikar Rising, it’s up to Wizards to ensure that other decks get the weapons they need to contain the Uro–Ugin tag team. But the signs are promising: the human tribal cards from Ikoria provide perfect incidental graveyard hate, and cards like Scavenging Ooze make great fallbacks. It’s enough that I’m satisfied to put down my crystal ball for now and trust that the designers have a plan to redress the balance. Zendikar has already been the death of the Eldrazi; perhaps Magic’s latest threat will meet his match here, too.
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.