This isn’t the world we live in.
But what if it was?
The following card sets are permitted in Standard tournaments:
Born of the Gods
Journey into Nyx
What if only the six most recent sets were legal?
The future of Standard is a hot topic at the moment, as the Magic community has grown too ruthlessly effective at solving formats for the current rotation
schedule. Fall sets bring with them a massive rotation and the format resets, becoming fresh and interesting. Unfortunately, the later into the block a set
falls, the less impact it has on the format.
Another challenge is that some cards are legal for just fifteen months, while other cards are legal for twenty-four months. Whenever a mistake gets printed
in one of the twenty-four month sets, it can take so long for the card to rotate out. Sphinx’s Revelation, I’m looking at you! There are so many
cards, so many decks that never get played, that would have been fun to explore if not completely overshadowed by one or two overpowered cards overstaying
I certainly don’t know what the future will hold for the rules of Standard, but I am curious what such a world might look like. Today, I’d like to try an
experiment. I’d like to do some brewing in the alternate universe where the last six sets are always the Standard legal ones. This possibility was
discussed Monday, and even if there were only two rotations
a year (instead of four), the card pool would be the same today (the six sets listed above).
I’m going into the experiment with an open mind. Maybe building decks in this format reveals lots of holes, maybe it just looks like block, maybe it hardly
changes at all. I am curious, though, what’s the general power level of the decks? Two factors to keep in mind: First, these are not sets that would ever
fall under these rules, even if WotC wanted to do exactly this. Second, it is unusual how strong Return to Ravnica is compared to the rest of the sets in
What good are these decklists?
Well, they are Standard decks, but more seriously, this is a good opportunity to work out our brewing muscles!
For the purposes of this experiment, I’m considering shocklands to be in Dragon’s Maze. I think it would be pretty confusing to players to not allow them,
and besides, I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Future Magic sets will be designed with these constraints in mind. There were no dual lands in M14
because of it being designed with the old rotation schedule in mind. If sets’ lives were six sets, instead of between four and eight, R&D would make
some different decisions about spacing out dual lands, as well as when to reprint dual lands.
Besides, even if shocklands were not legal, temples, painlands, guildgates, and Mana Confluence is not a trivial amount of fixing. Even at current dual
land frequency, there will generally be two or three sets of dual lands legal at any given time. Sure, maybe some of the time some of the color
combinations would have a little more than others, but that’s already the case. That helps mix things up even more.
Where to start?
I guess in trying to tackle the format, many people would start by looking at possible updates to popular existing decks. Let’s take a look at which decks
from the top 8 of the Pro Tour would translate, and which would be effectively rotated out.
The champion, Ivan Floch’s U/W Control list is the perfect example of a deck that just can’t be directly ported over. The Azorius guild in Return to
Ravnica was terribly overpowered. Maybe we don’t need Detention Sphere or Azorius Charm. Maybe we don’t even need Jace, Architect of Thought or Syncopate.
But, without Sphinx’s Revelation and Supreme Verdict, what are we even doing?
Jace’s Ingenuity just doesn’t put away games the way Sphinx’s Revelation does, and Planar Cleansing is so much slower than Supreme Verdict. Maybe
this approach would be viable if the format is slower, but I kind of imagine the format will still be pretty fast.
While it’s very possible that there is a good U/W list, it’s probably constructed very differently. Maybe it uses Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Archangel of
Thune to play a mean tap-out game, though that opens you up pretty badly to Lifebane Zombie, which I would expect to be quite popular.
What would the world look like without Sphinx’s Revelation squeezing out most mid-speed and slower decks?
Continuing down the top 8 lists, what about G/W Aggro? Losing Dryad Militant, Selesyna Charm, and Loxodon Smiter is not trivial, but at least we mostly
have replacements available.
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 4 Boon Satyr
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
- 2 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
- 4 Sunblade Elf
Okay, this one looks pretty respectable. It’s got a good curve, good enough mana, and should probably be in the starting gauntlet. Pat Cox played basically
the same deck but with Ghor-Clan Rampager. Without it being legal, Brave Naya is basically just a bad Brave Selesyna. I didn’t actually use Brave the
Elements here, due to relying on Sunblade Elf, Scavenging Ooze, Boon Satyr, and Advent of the Wurm, but it could be another reasonable way to go.
Looking at the format just in terms of decks losing things isn’t going to give us a full picture, but it can give us a starting point for evaluating our
new brews. In particular, we are going to want to be looking for opportunities caused by U/W Control, Black/X Midrange, and Blue Devotion all taking big
hits. Speaking of which, we should look at those two as well in order to understand why all three of the pillars of the format are shaken up.
B/W Midrange loses a lot of cards, including Pack Rat, Desecration Demon, Obzedat, Ghost Council, Underworld Connections, and some spot removal. It is a
very robust strategy, however. It was a serious consideration in Block, so having three extra sets that included far better mana is worth looking into.
I don’t mind relying on Brimaz instead of Desecration Demon, and we’ve got plenty of bombs to make up for Obzedat. Sign in Blood and Read the Bones are
kind of loose Underworld Connections replacements, but they are a bit better against aggro decks, and with less U/W and less Black decks, they might even
be a small upgrade. I’d prefer all Read the Bones, which is a much better Magic card, but we are so glutted at the three spot.
I wonder if we can really get away with no two-drop creatures? Pack Rat is the real card we’re missing. That is where so many of our free wins come from.
It’s also a way to have action early. Without it, we are kind of slow and frumpy. At least Brimaz and Blood Baron are good at playing catch-up.
While Mono-Blue Devotion didn’t put anyone in the Top 8 of PT Magic 2015, no one would deny that it is one of the defining decks of that format (and in
fact, it did go on to win a GP the next week). While Mono-Blue Devotion has been a killer all year, it was almost non-existent in Block. Not having
Frostburn Weird, Nightveil Specter, Rapid Hybridization, and Cyclonic Rift is serious, but compared to Block, it gains Galerider Sliver, Mindreaver,
Domestication, and Mutavault (a huge win).
- 4 Galerider Sliver
- 4 Tidebinder Mage
- 4 Thassa, God of the Sea
- 4 Master of Waves
- 4 Mindreaver
- 4 Hypnotic Siren
- 1 Triton Shorestalker
Mindreaver is a suspect Frostburn Weird replacement, but we’re not actually doing that badly with our one-drops and tricks. The biggest hole is the lack of
a good Nightveil Specter replacement. This strategy would be well worth testing and likely is at least good enough to be a part of the format in some
capacity; but I seriously doubt it would be as oppressive as Mono-Blue Devotion has been.
I’m eager to get into new brews, but it seems vital to at least have the context of which popular strategies survive being ported in. Let’s jump back to
the Top 8 decks. What about Jund Planeswalkers? Vraska the Unseen, Rakdos’s Return, Dreadbore, Mizzium Mortars, Golgari Charm, and Abrupt Decay is a lot.
Are we sure we even want to be black?
Sure, we can replace the removal with worse removal. Sure, we can try to fill the Rakdos’s Return and Vraska void with Garruk, Apex Predator and more
Thoughtseizes. This could even be a reasonable deck to test against, at least out the gate. The thing is, why? Why are we just content to use a lot of
worse versions of things? Black doesn’t cost us much, but Rakdos’s Return and Vraska were pretty important sources of heavy-lifting, and this is a pretty
big downgrade in the versatility of the removal.
This is an excellent example of a spot where we might see very different decks emerge as a result of not having to endure the oppressive forces of
Revelation and Pack Rat. Maybe instead of trying to replace cards, we just use the core engine in a very different way. For instance…
- 4 Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
- 2 Sire of Insanity
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Kalonian Hydra
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Genesis Hydra
- 4 Generator Servant
Now that’s a new take on Standard! This strategy isn’t tier 1 in old Standard because of just how effective both Revelation decks and Black decks are at
crushing threat-light decks. Taking the big three down a couple notches means ultra-fun decks like this are much more realistic tournament options.
As for the planeswalker deck above, I think if I was going to play a planeswalker-centric ramp deck, I’d rather play White than Black in six-set Standard.
Without Rakdos’s Return or Vraska, we might as well play Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. We don’t even get the good black removal we wanted so Banishing Light
might be better.
I would expect this to be one of the best strategies on day one, as it was one of the best Block strategies and has several major gains:
- 3 Chandra, Pyromaster
- 4 Xenagos, the Reveler
- 4 Elspeth, Sun's Champion
- 1 Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
- 4 Nissa, Worldwaker
This deck looks great and would have some excellent sideboard options to really help fill it out. Cheap removal, enchantment-kill, lifegain, Mistcutter
Hydras, and Archangel of Thune is a lot of awesomeness for games 2 and 3.
I don’t know about you, but I would love if a deck like this was one of the better decks in the format!
What about Sperling’s R/W Burn deck? After all, we can literally just replace Skullcrack with Magma Jet and call it a day.
R/W Burn has to be a consideration, but this is one strategy that might be hurt by the rotation not because of lost cards but because of lost prey.
Afterall, R/W Burn wants to go after Black decks and really doesn’t mind most control decks.
That said, the loss of Revelations is a major win for Burn, and I’m kind of imagining there will be more dual lands in people’s decks, meaning more free
damage. There are lots of good tools available to fight burn, but that’s always true. If people don’t play it, burn could be real good, as it is not short
It’s interesting to consider the implications of no Supreme Verdict on red decks. Obviously, Verdict is terrible against Burn, but it’s the best card in
the world against some red creature decks. Can we exploit a format without Supreme Verdict?
- 4 Frenzied Goblin
- 4 Rubblebelt Maaka
- 4 Akroan Crusader
- 4 Firedrinker Satyr
- 4 Satyr Hoplite
- 3 Borderland Marauder
- 18 Mountain
Rakdos Cackler, Legion Loyalist, Ash Zealot, and Madcap Skills would all be nice in another life, but not having to face Supreme Verdict is just
off-the-charts good for us. It’s possible this all-in approach is so dangerous without Verdict to reign it in, that every deck ends up playing more one and
two-cost removal. That, in turn, makes midrange strategies better.
People give midrange strategies a hard time, but the truth is, formats where midrange is good tend to be more fun to play for more than a month than
formats that are all about the extremes.
Continuing with the “no Supreme Verdict” exploration, what about the deck hurt most by Supreme Verdict: Slivers.
- 4 Blur Sliver
- 4 Striking Sliver
- 4 Thorncaster Sliver
- 4 Predatory Sliver
- 4 Galerider Sliver
- 4 Manaweft Sliver
- 4 Diffusion Sliver
- 4 Venom Sliver
Hell yes! Slivers loses basically nothing (depending on what you want your support cards to be), and no longer has to face Supreme Verdict. While there
would only be two sets worth of Slivers for three months, that’s true in our universe anyway. Besides, if Slivers really is tier 1 for a little while, it
would be nice if it knew to leave on a high note.
While we’ve been focusing (somewhat) on the bottom-up approach of starting with old Standard decks and seeing what’s missing, it’s also equally valid to
start with the top Block decks and see what you get to add. We already discussed Naya Planeswalkers above (or is that RG Elspeth…?), so what about BUG
There are some important differences in six-set Standard compared to Theros Block Constructed. First of all, Aetherling is an even more extreme Prognostic
Sphinx. Nissa, Worldwaker is just so powerful that we have serious competition at the five spot. Finally, we have much, much better mana.
While U/W Control gets horribly slaughtered in the shift, BUG Control actually looks like it might get lifted all the way to tier 1. This isn’t even a
tuned list or anything, but it looks pretty clear that BUG has a lot of room to get tuned against specific decks, not to mention playing a naturally more
proactive tap-out game.
It’s not just that this style of BUG deck is more fun to play with and against for most players (due to the increased areas of interaction, more different
types of decisions); it’s also just nice to have a different sort of control deck looming a shadow over the format. Sphinx’s Revelation has defined how
control decks have to be built for over a year-and-a-half now. It’d be kind of nice if we had a chance to play with and against other types of control
decks once in a while.
One of the biggest differences of six-set Standard compared to Block is just how much better the mana is. Even if we didn’t have shocklands, the M10
painlands make a world of difference, and that’s to say nothing of guildgates. The temples already push us to often play painlands instead of shocklands in
some decks. For instance, here’s an update to Junk, trying to translate it to six-set Standard:
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
- 4 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 4 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
Astute readers may have noticed the lack of Silence the Believers in both of these lists. That could easily be a mistake, but looking at the lists above,
Silence the Believers might be a little slow to rely too heavily on. Besides, Blood Baron of Vizkopa is a real problem, Aetherling gets around it, and
there are a lot more good planeswalkers to contend with.
Advent of the Wurm is a sweet card, but I am always hesitant to put too much stock in it when playing Courser of Kruphix, as it is one of the worst cards
I’m also unsure of zero Nissa, Worldwaker and zero Ajani, Mentor of Heroes. It would be nice to have more planeswalker action, but Blood Baron of Vizkopa
is so filthy, particularly with Mizzium Mortars no longer in the equation (and Lightning Strikes all over the place). Maybe we can play more than
four five-drops, but I just can’t imagine not wanting to start with the full package of Blood Barons. Looking at the decks we’ve discussed today, doesn’t
it seem like that would be one of the defining cards of the format?
What about the Block aggro deck of choice, Mono-Black Aggro?
- 4 Lifebane Zombie
- 4 Tormented Hero
- 2 Agent of the Fates
- 4 Pain Seer
- 4 Herald of Torment
- 4 Spiteful Returned
- 4 Gnarled Scarhide
- 1 Cruel Sadist
Mutavault and Lifebane Zombie are huge wins, but beyond that, you’re really not that much different than the Block deck. Of course, the Block deck was
really not that much different than the Standard deck, so that’s not surprising. All we’re really missing from old Standard Black Aggro is Rakdos Cackler,
but we don’t have to face Supreme Verdict or Pack Rat. As an added bonus, there are going to be a lot more Doom Blades, since neither Ultimate Price nor
Devour Flesh will be competing with it.
Mono-Black Control didn’t have enough tools in Block, but it has been good in Standard for a while. Do Lifebane Zombie, Mutavault, Liliana Vess, Sign in
Blood, and better removal lift it into competitive, even without Pack Rat, Desecration Demon, and Underworld Connections?
Hrmm. Maybe. I mean, Lifebane Zombie and Mutavault are sweet, no question, but without Underworld Connections, Gray Merchant is a lot less impressive.
Squelching Leeches is definitely no Desecration Demon. With no free Pack Rat wins, it feels like we might be slightly underpowered. What we really need is
another permanent to get our devotion up. No Nightveil Specters either!
While it may be easier to start from a place of adding or subtracting cards from previous decks, remember going forward that there would be no Block. Also,
just because ports are easier decks to figure out on day one doesn’t mean that’s where we want to be. What’s more important is figuring out what is
possible without Supreme Verdict, without Sphinx’s Revelation, without Pack Rat, without Underworld Connections.
Do I think current Standard would be more fun and interesting with this kind of a shake-up? Definitely, but that’s not the point. The point is having more
than one rotation a year would inject a ton of new life into formats, and give us a chance to play with different cards more often instead of just jamming
the same thing all year long.
Maybe the above format gets solved eventually. Maybe it doesn’t. Three months from now, Khans of Tarkir will drop. Kicking out Dragon’s Maze frees up a lot
of space for other cards to shine. Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Voice of Resurgence, Aetherling, shocklands, and more have all had their day in the sun. With
Khans of Tarkir added to the mix, it’s a brand new format again.
Then, when the second set of the block comes out, we would not only have 150 new cards, we’d also see M14 leave, ensuring a much different experience.
Currently, second and third sets have a pretty big risk of not mixing things up enough, to say nothing of core sets (which are kind of a fourth set in the
Block, all things considered).
I’m not sure what the best implementation would be, but something in this space would go such a long way towards keeping formats ever-changing and
tournament Magic fresh and exciting. Don’t like six-set Standard? Suggest an alternative! Remember, we want to avoid making it overly complicated while
making sure to address the goal of doing a better job of mixing Standard up more often. There was a ton of great feedback in the comments Monday, and I
encourage you to keep it coming. Wizards of the Coast R&D reads those comments, particularly when tackling an issue so near and dear to them.
Ideas suggested get discussed, considered, sometimes even playtested. Standard is probably evolving sometime in the near future. The more ideas,
perspectives, concerns, and feedback we can give, the better new Standard will in the years to come.
Thanks for taking the time. See you Monday!