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Restarting Standard


Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 45 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Top 32 GP Vienna 2008
  • Top 64 GP Krakow 2007
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8

Restarting Standard

Hey everyone!

The new autumn block called Theros is not far away and the first cards have already started flying in. Innistrad block and M13 are leaving Standard once Theros enters the format and, as always at this time of the year, this is going to be an earthshaking change. The current Standard format is a lame duck and, although it’s definitely quite interesting and diverse, compared to some of the full Standard formats of the past, there’s not much point in talking about it. So instead, I’m going to look at what is going to be left of the format without the sets that are rotating out. Which decks are more likely to survive in some sort of shape or form? Which decks are going to be obliterated by the upcoming format sweep? Which decks are going to be the base of the new format? Today, I’d like to try to find answers to all of these questions. Also, I’m going to look at some individual cards, trying to identify the winners and losers among the cards that are going to stay with us for one more year.

The list of tier 1 Standard decks is quite long, but I think it’s worth looking at every single one of the decks that fall into this category, since we can learn a lot about the anatomy of the soon-to-come Standard. I think that it’s more useful than looking at Ravnica Block constructed, because that format has had quite a lot of specifics. First, it doesn’t include cards from M14 and second, since the manabases are traditionally the weakest spot of the Block decks, the archetypes simply work in a very different way. It’s true that M14 doesn’t contain a single dual land, but Theros will, and even though we don’t know what these duals will look like, I’m pretty sure they are going to be way better than the Guildgates, which played the role of the „necessary evil“ in the Block decks' manabases.

So let’s dive right in. What does every deck lose? Is it going to be playable after the rotation? Here are my predictions:

Jund is right among the archetypes that are going to be hit the hardest by the rotation. Most of the powerful spells have to go: Huntmaster of the Fells, Olivia Voldaren, Thragtusk, Bonfire of the Damned, Garruk, Primal Hunter, Liliana of the Veil... even Kessig Wolf Run rotates out this September. And while it’s true that none of these cards play such a specific role in the deck that they simply couldn’t be replaced by other cards, it’s hard to imagine a similar archetype emerging on the ruins of the old Jund deck, simply for the fact that with so many new cards it would inevitably have to play, it would likely become a brand new deck. So does that mean that we’re not going to see an archetype with a similar approach to the game, that is to remove any threat the opponent plays and then take the game over with the highest power-level cards of the format? Not really. The above mentioned strategy is almost as old as Magic itself and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another deck that would just take the best cards and lump them together in one monstrosity of a deck. But even if such a post-rotation deck exists, and even if it runs the R/G/B colors, it’s simply going to be a different deck – even if people still call it Jund because of its colors.

The red-green aggro deck popularized by Brian Kibler at this year’s Worlds looks like it’s going to take a massive hit by the rotation, but if we look a bit closer, I think that the situation might not be that bad for this deck. It’s true that the archetype is losing some of its most powerful cards: Arbor Elf, Flinthoof Boar, Strangleroot Geist, Hellrider, Thundermaw Hellkite. This list basically represents its whole offensive force. Being able to attack on the turn when its creatures hit the battlefield was a big upside for the deck, and without the four hasty creatures, the deck is bound to be a good deal slower. Or is it? Here’s the thing: of all the cards in the list, there’s not a single one that would be irreplaceable. They’re all just creatures that attack for a bunch of damage. It’s true that by losing all of these, the power level of the deck is likely going to decrease, but so is the power level of all the other decks in the format. And some substitutes for the leaving cards are definitely there. Just look up Stephen Mann’s deck from PT Return to Ravnica: he played R/G beats with cards like Experiment One, Burning-Tree Emissary and Firefist Striker and did pretty well with them (going 6-1-3). By having to replace its primary weapons, R/G aggro is going to have to change and the alternatives are likely going to be „smaller“ than the cards currently in the deck, which means that the strategy is bound to be a bit different, but we still have staples like Scavenging Ooze, Ghor-Clan Rampager (key in creature matchups), Mizzium Mortars, Domri Rade (key in control matchups) and Burning Earth (key sideboard card), so I think that chances are pretty high that we’re going to be seeing this deck even after the rotation. And even if you want to stay midrange, there are viable alternatives now, which haven’t had the chance to shine simply because the old cards were better. Ogre Battledriver might have something to say about this.

While most of U/W(r) control's midrange creatures are leaving us soon, namely Restoration Angel, Augur of Bolas and Snapcaster Mage, most of the deck‘s non-creature spells are staying. One exception is Pillar of Flame – a card that you might rule out as unimportant at first glance (there will always be a cheap Shock around), but which actually played a rather crucial role in the deck, as it was one of the very few ways the deck had how to get rid of Voice of Resurgence. Voice is of course staying, so unless the deck can find another reasonable way how to fight the pesky green-white Grizzly Bear, it will have to struggle against most opponents with Plains and Forests in their decks (and this can include quite a few decks, if you count cards like Overgrown Tomb or Sacred Foundry among these Plains and Forests). As for the creature suite, instead of small creatures, most of the block decks opted for Aetherling and then Sin Collector and Blood Baron of Vizkopa if they were playing black. Unless there are good cheaper alternatives in Theros, I expect the blue-white decks to take exactly that path, with Assemble the Legion playing the role of the finisher in U/W/R.

Bant Hexproof is losing a ton with the upcoming rotation and frankly, I can’t see too many players unhappy about that. The two most troublesome creatures – Geist of Saint Traft and Invisible Stalker – say goodbye to Standard very soon, and so does the Core Set powerhouse Rancor. We’re still left with two perfectly fine aura targets in Gladeclover Scout and Fiendslayer Paladin and some of the original pants like Unflinching Courage or Ethereal Armor also stay, but I doubt that this is going to be enough for some iteration of the deck to stay in the format. However, if you think this means that you’re never again going to lose to a random big dork with Unflinching Courage on it, then I have bad news for you. The G/W aggro deck played by Craig Wescoe in PT Dragon’s Maze, while not having as hard-to-deal-with threats as Bant Hexproof does, still contains many beaters that are really problematic to play against. Also, it has quite a few tricks to keep its dorks alive. I wouldn’t bet against seeing a beefed-up Fiendslayer Paladin in Standard anytime soon.

The Aristocrats, either of the PT Gatecrash fame as B/W/R or the latter Junk version, lose a lot, and while some parts of the engine stay, I have a hard time seeing the deck survive the rotation. What we’re keeping are most of the sacrifice outlets: Cartel Aristocrat and Varolz, the Scar-Striped will still be around in a couple of months and if that’s not enough, we can even complement the engine with Blood Bairn from M14. Xathrid Necromancer also complements this strategy nicely, as long as there will be some playable humans in Theros and not only Pegasi, Cerberi and other mythological vermins. The problem, however, is the fodder: among the outbound, we can find cards like Doomed Traveler, Lingering Souls, Blood Artist and Skirsdag High Priest, and the latter two gave you an incentive to focus on sacrificing creatures in the first place. As I’ve already mentioned, the tools are still there, if some good reason to run a sacrifice theme deck appears, but right now, there’s not really any point in assembling cards of this nature (and no, I don’t think that Act of Treason is going to make the transition from limited to constructed here).

Junk Reanimator is one of the more obvious losers. With no Unburial Rites, there’s not that much point in milling yourself. However, it’s good to remember that we still have some sort of graveyard interaction, even when the graveyard-centered Innistrad block leaves Standard: the power level of Grisly Salvage and Angel of Serenity is still really high, so all it takes is one good reanimation spell and the archetype might still be playable after the rotation, even if in a different setup. I’m going to keep my eyes open for anything that interacts with Grisly Salvage in particular, as the card is simply too strong of a role-player to ignore, given the right tools.

B/G control will certainly cease to exist in the current form, as multiple of its key cards will disappear from Standard in September: Thragtusk, Disciple of Bolas, Liliana of the Veil and perhaps most importantly, Mutilate. A card which is not going to rotate out is Desecration Demon and while obviously one card is not enough to keep the archetype alive, I expect the big flyer to become a staple in the new Standard, especially if Doom Blade becomes the spot removal of choice in most decks.

That’s it for the decks, now let’s have a look at some cards and their outlook for the upcoming changes. Which cards will gain the most and which ones will drop in value?

The Winners

Jace, Architect of Thought –this one is rather easy: if you look at the Block decks from PT Dragon’s Maze, Jace, Architect of Thought is all over the place. There are often cards with power level just a little shy from being very good in Standard and I think that Jace is a very fine example. Also, the environment hasn’t been too friendly to planeswalkers recently, with so many haste creatures around. Jace’s life is going to be much easier with the likes of Hellrider, Flinthoof Boar and Thundermaw Hellkite gone.

Essence Scatter – here, the reason is again quite simple: there’s no Cavern of Souls in the post-rotation Standard. Voice of Resurgence is still around, but this card doesn’t even stack that badly against Voice, as long as you’re on the play.

Aetherling – the biggest finisher around, which is again clear from the Block results. It’s true that Block was missing Jace, Memory Adept as one of the possible blue win conditions and the five-mana Jace is certainly very powerful in the control-mirrors (especially with the new legend rules), but Aetherling will still be the most inevitable win condition around.

Elvish Mystic – without Arbor Elf or Avacyn's Pilgrim, Elvish Mystic becomes the only 1-drop mana dork we have. Expect him to be around in high numbers.

Desecration Demon – a similar story like in the case of Jace, Architect of Thought. A card with quite a lot of potential that was kept from Standard by more powerful four-drops. With no Olivia, Hellrider or Huntmaster, among other cards, Desecration Demon gets a lot more space to impress.

The Losers

Scavenging Ooze –don’t get me wrong: this card is still going to be great after the rotation. It’s still a 2-drop that is good early and sick late. Against aggro, it gains a bunch of life. Against control, it’s simply big. But without cards like Snapcaster Mage, Unburial Rites or Strangleroot Geist, it’s going to be just a little worse.

Blind Obedience – a card used mostly to hate out R/G’s haste creatures, it loses its no.1 target and thus probably also its status as a niche silver bullet.

Lifebane Zombie – also loses its most important targets: Huntmaster of the Fells, Restoration Angel and Thragtusk. It might very well be possible that the Zombie is going to have really good targets in Theros, but right now, we simply don’t know and passing the three above mentioned cards in playability and presence across various decks is going to be difficult.

Ethereal Armor – (for obvious reasons)

Boros Reckoner – without the M13 duals, chances are that building manabases that can accommodate this minotaur won’t be that easy, especially since the Theros duals are not supposed to work with the Ravnica duals as smoothly. On the other hand, there’s going to be a Minotaur Lord in Theros, so who knows what’s going to happen...

Well, that’s all from me for today. See you next time, and if you’re playing in GP Prague this weekend, feel free to drop by and say hi!

Adam Koska

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