Praise be to Hazoret! Following Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, Standard took a hard turn red: no less than six of the PT Top 8 competitors were running the Ramunap Red archetype, with Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa taking it all the way to a win that gave him the Player of the Year title.
The successful decklists from this event have provided the framework for the Standard metagame as it has evolved since. The next big shakeup to the metagame will be when Ixalan hits the shelves on September 29, and both Battle for Zendikar and Shadows over Innistrad block rotate out.
One thing is certain already—Ixalan will have big shoes to fill. This is the first time since Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block that four non-Core sets will be rotating out of Standard. This means 920 cards (not counting basic lands) will be replaced with only 264 (assuming 15 basic lands in the new set). Just looking at the numbers, it feels like a massive change. But how much of the BFZ and SOI blocks actually contribute to the current Standard metagame?
On the creature front, Battle for Zendikar will not be missed much—Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is the only creature that saw consistent play throughout the set's legality; Dragonmaster Outcast managed to sneak into a few lists but rarely as more than a one-of.
Oath of the Gatewatch introduced us to colorless mana with the often overpowered Eldrazi monsters: Matter Reshaper, Thought-Knot Seer, and Reality Smasher had an immediate impact on both Standard and eternal formats—whether in dedicated lists or as support to single-colored aggressive strategies like the recent Mono-Red builds.
That trend of multi-format impact continued with Shadows over Innistrad block, giving us more all-stars like Tireless Tracker, Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror, Prized Amalgam, Spell Queller, Selfless Spirit, and Grim Flayer.
But among all the creatures leaving Standard this fall, there is one that definitely holds a special place in this list: the Little Common That Could, Thraben Inspector. Our favorite sleuth has been featured in many different archetypes, from UW Monument, to Death & Taxes, to Mardu Vehicles. It will be tough to replace everyone's favorite one-drop.
In the spells department, a significant number of board wipes will have to be replaced: Radiant Flames, Kozilek's Return, Flaying Tendrils, and to some extent Declaration in Stone (vs. any token army) are leaving the job to Sweltering Suns, Yahenni's Expertise, Bontu's Last Reckoning, Fumigate, and Hour of Devastation. The common denominator? All of these require double-colored mana, taking away the flexibility provided by the other current tools.
Targeted control is also losing major pieces in Stasis Snare, Grasp of Darkness, and Anguished Unmaking. Of note, Cut // Ribbons and Harnessed Lightning will become the weapons of choice in the two-cmc-or-less category once Lightning Axe and Incendiary Flow rotate out. Chandra's Defeat claims the highest damage count (at five) but is limited to red creatures or planeswalkers.
Speaking of which, the Superfriends archetype will be losing a huge element in Oath of Nissa, a real swiss army knife that could both find a planeswalker and provide the fixing to play it. Some Temur Energy builds have tried to stretch the manabase to include Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh (see Reid Duke's Pro Tour list), and the departure of Oath of Nissa means that Aether Hub and Servant of the Conduit will have to work extra hard.
For a long while, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was not only the marquee card of Battle for Zendikar, but also one of the only nonland card from that set played in Standard (along with Transgress the Mind). The advent of Heart of Kiran gave it a second life via Mardu Vehicles, and the Gatewatch's general has since landed in a few Modern and Legacy lists.
As far as the Vehicles archetype is concerned, even though prominent pros like Raphael Levy and Frank Karsten still hold the Zendikar version dear, recent lists seem to have already shifted to Gideon of the Trials to ease into the rotation transition.
Most of the other planeswalkers leaving Standard have been prominently featured in multiple archetypes, whether it is Liliana, the Last Hope (Delirium, Zombies), Nissa, Voice of Zendikar (GW Tokens, BG Counters), Chandra, Flamecaller (Ramp, Burn, Marvel), or even Nahiri, the Harbinger (Vehicles, Jeskai Control).
It will be interesting to see how the events of the Hour of Devastation storyline and the fate of the Gatewatch members will shape Ixalan Standard—we already know from Maro's June 12 article on the Mothership (Metamorphosis 2.0) that we will see fewer versions of Jace & co. in future releases.
The biggest shakeup in my opinion will be the Standard landscape—literally. Both sets of allied-colored dual lands are rotating out, although they should be replaced by known entities if we are to believe recent Ixalan rumors. The long-awaited enemy-colored creature lands have all enjoyed their time in the spotlight at various time during their Standard life, but are now handing the baton to the lone Hostile Desert.
Westvale Abbey // Ormendahl, Profane Prince is another solid finisher that benefits the Mono-Black Zombies and UW Monument strategies—especially the latter—but the transforming Demon will only be haunting playmats for just a few more weeks.
For anyone looking to jump into Standard now, there are a few decks to pick from within the same price range, so I wanted to take a look at the current top lists and see which of these archetypes have the best chance to survive the fall rotation. The deck lists and prices in the data below are taken as of August 23rd.
|% of Deck||Maindeck||Sideboard||Lands|
|Ramunap Red (GP Denver, 3rd)||5.3%||4||0||0||$267|
|Temur Energy (GP Denver, 1st)||10.7%||2||6||2||$216|
|Mono-Black Zombies (SCG Richmond, 3rd)||40.0%||21||9||1||$200|
|Mardu Vehicles (SCG Richmond, 7th)||16.0%||10||2||2||$328|
|UW Approach (Standard PTQ 7-1)||24.0%||10||8||6||$108|
|BG Constrictor (SCG Richmond Classic, 1st)||34.7%||23||3||4||$209|
|UR Control (SCG Richmond Classic, 13th)||13.3%||5||5||5||$238|
|RG Ramp (Standard RPTQ, 6-2)||44.0%||25||8||8||$220|
|WU God-Pharaoh's Gift (GP Denver, 9th)||20.0%||10||5||6||$162|
|GR Pummeler (MTGO League, 5-0)||8.0%||5||1||3||$141|
Winners - Temur, Red, and Pummeler
The table above summarizes what the current top-tier decks in Standard will be losing come rotation. The biggest takeaway is that the top two decks of the format, Ramunap Red and Temur Energy, will pretty much emerge unscathed from rotation.
One could argue that the Temur Energy list that won GP Denver is in the best position. From the maindeck it's only losing two lands (one copy each of Game Trail and Lumbering Falls), one of which we expect to be functionally replaced in Ixalan by the rumored Rootbound Crag. Meanwhile, its biggest board-control piece from the sideboard already has an above-average substitute (Sweltering Suns for Radiant Flames).
The Ramunap Red version that Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa piloted to win Pro Tour Hour of Devastation featured Falkenrath Gorger. It appears that Soul-Scar Mage has already taken this spot in many lists, if we go by the list that finished 3rd at GP Denver. The maindeck of this more control-ish build is, ironically, more affected by rotation however, with the departure of Incendiary Flow and Collective Defiance. The sideboard is completely untouched.
But picture this: for about half the price of Ramunap Red (Hazoret the Fervent and Chandra, Torch of Defiance run up the count quite fast), there's a deck that's arguably just as competitive and survives rotation just as well: GR Pummeler.
The only cards rotating out of the maindeck are Game Trail and Tireless Tracker. I already pointed out that another RG dual land with similar restrictions is on its way; as for the Tracker, one thing I am eager to test is Resilient Khenra, which plays well with the Pummeler pump strategy.
Losers - Zombies, Ramp, and Constrictor
Two decks will be losing 40% or more of their builds: Mono-Black Zombies and RG Ramp.
Despite winning Pro Tour Amonkhet, the Zombies deck is more than likely doomed if Ixalan does not provide solid replacements: Cryptbreaker, Diregraf Colossus, Relentless Dead, Dark Salvation, and Grasp of Darkness are all leaving. There doesn't seem to be more Zombies support coming up, since Vampires is the announced supported tribe for Ixalan. Metallic Mimic and Plague Belcher are decent options but don't provide the explosiveness and resiliency featured by the current lists.
The case of Ramp is even more serious: all Eldrazi creatures—both small (Matter Reshaper, Thought-Knot Seer) and large (World Breaker, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger)—being accelerated into via Hour of Promise and the new Deserts from Hour of Devastation will be coaxed back into the Blind Eternities. However there is little doubt that Ixalan will bring its lot of gigantic dinosaurs to amuse the aficionados of Ponza strategies (spoiler alert: it does).
BG Constrictor is another strategy that gets hit hard. Instinctively, one would think that all the pieces are still there: Blooming Marsh, Winding Constrictor, Rishkar, Peema Renegade, Verdurous Gearhulk, even Fatal Push! But most of the efficient support of this midrange build is also rotating: Grim Flayer, Tireless Tracker, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, along with the two planeswalkers Liliana, the Last Hope and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar (plus Ob Nixilis Reignited in some sideboards), are all major losses.
Shifting Builds - Vehicles and Control
The known quantities that are Mardu Vehicles and UR Control have very different days ahead of them, but it looks mostly based on the type of build rather than the archetype itself. Take Mardu Vehicles for example: the creature package can vary drastically, as showcased by this list that finished 7-3 at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation featuring Thalia, Heretic Cathar and Archangel Avacyn // Avacyn, the Purifier, and this list that finished 7th at an SCG Classic that relies on Veteran Motorist and Glorybringer.
Even the issue of which Gideon to run is raised! One common denominator though, as mentioned before: the loss of Thraben Inspector and its clue, which has powered the likes of Toolcraft Exemplar and Unlicensed Disintegration for so long now.
The problems faced by UR Control are different. It loses manabase stability with Wandering Fumarole leaving Standard, while the sideboard options are shrinking with the loss of Dragonmaster Outcast and Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror. As replacement for the creatures, I could see Kefnet the Mindful making an appearance, along with Pia Nalaar, which was already present in Tomoharu Saito's Pro Tour build.
The New Kids - Approach and God-Pharaoh's Gift
Finally, I cannot wrap this article up without mentioning the recent innovations since Pro Tour Hour of Devastation: UW Approach and God-Pharaoh's Gift.
The most budget-friendly list of the new Standard, UW Approach relies on the good old draw-go strategy, waiting until it hits seven lands to play Approach of the Second Sun. Then it filters through the top of the deck quickly with cheap cyclers (Cast Out, Aven Mindcensor, Hieroglyphic Illumination) and the scry of Glimmer of Genius to hit Approach again. From the list I used to compile the data above, there are even cheaper versions that completely forgo Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in favor of Kefnet the Mindful.
Come rotation, the manabase will be the most affected part of this build, with Prairie Stream and Blighted Cataract departing. But it should recover quite well, since I hear Glacial Fortress is on the horizon. As for the sideboard, there is no clear replacement for what Spell Queller usually offers, however Gideon of the Trials could easily tag in for its Gideon, Ally of Zendikar counterpart.
As for the God-Pharaoh's Gift lists, there are two distinct strategies being developed: the UW list analyzed above (finishing just outside of the Top 8 at GP Denver) and a Jeskai list, mostly blue-red splashing white for Angel of Invention and Cataclysmic Gearhulk. They share a similar goal: to dump as many creatures as possible into the graveyard to be brought back with God-Pharaoh's Gift, the latter itself being played on the cheap via Refurbish or Gate to the Afterlife.
Both versions will only be losing one nonland card in their maindeck at rotation: Thraben Inspector for UW, Insolent Neonate for Jeskai, the latter being a solid discard enabler for reanimation purposes. These decks are another competitive, budget choice for the coming rotation. If not for the inclusion of Chandra in the sideboard of the Jeskai build, both versions would be comparable in price—around the same price as the GR Pummeler list at the time of this writing.
The coming rotation will bring massive changes to the Standard card pool for sure, however some of the current top-tier archetypes are in a great position to carry their success over to the fall. Ramunap Red, Temur Energy, UR Control, and Mardu Vehicles are the established strategies that should suffer the least.
While BG Constrictor and Mono-Black Zombies look attractive with their history of successful results, these archetypes will get all but decimated in the fall. For friendlier budgets, one can make the switch to either GR Pummeler, UW Approach or UW God-Pharaoh's Gift, all of which will remain very competitive and pretty much intact through rotation.