Constructed Criticism – Staples Of Standard Post-Rotation

Looks like we’re saying goodbye to Zendikar and M11 soon. What’s left from Scars and M12 that will become the new staples of Standard? Todd Anderson gives you his top 20.

In just a few short weeks, the entirety of tournament Magic is going to change with the release of Innistrad. For some, it will herald the end of an era full of Squadron Hawks, Goblin Guides, Valakuts, and Splinter Twin, bringing about much rejoicing. I, for one, will be happy to see it go. But what exactly are we losing? The short answer is: everything relevant.

The long answer really isn’t all that simple.

Caw-Blade, or U/W Control for some, has been a dominant force in Standard for quite some time, but most recently we remember Stoneforge Mystic, Squadron Hawk, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor as the main offenders. What people are forgetting is that we’re losing so much more.

So many of the pillars of current decks are rotating with Zendikar and M11. Fetchlands will be gone. Manlands will be gone. Preordain will be gone. Even Spell Pierce will be gone!

What this means is that very few decks will be left untouched by the rotation. Even crowd favorites like Mono Red will lose Goblin Guide, as well as a suite of burn spells and fetchlands for Grim Lavamancer to play with. Control decks will lose Jace Beleren, Spell Pierce, and much more. Valakut can’t function without its namesake card, and Primeval Titan will become much less threatening in the meantime. Splinter Twin is in the same boat as Valakut, and I’m sure that Deceiver Exarch won’t be making much of a splash once Innistrad is released.

So then, what do we have left after the rotation? There are plenty of strong options available, but I think people really just need a jumping off point for deckbuilding. Today we’re going to look at some of the non-Innistrad staples still left in Standard and how you can build around them or try to fit them into your new decks once Innistrad is released later this month.

Here are my Top 20 cards left in Standard after the rotation:

20. Mox Opal

While this card only fits into a few decks, I think the power level it brings will be something people will be talking about for the next year of Standard. This card singlehandedly makes Affinity a viable deck in Modern and will give people nightmare draws with Tempered Steel and Tezzeret decks in the very near future. While the applications might be limited, cards of this power level should not be overlooked. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there will be too many powerful artifacts from Innistrad, but I could be wrong!

19. Hero of Bladehold

This will be one of the default win conditions for white decks, whether they be control or aggro. A virtual four-casting-cost Titan, Hero of Bladehold will be the last thing the opponent sees before their life total vanishes. She fits into a variety of decks and is definitely going to be a pillar of Standard moving forward.

18. Karn Liberated

While Karn has seen some play in U/B Control and a bit in Block Constructed, I don’t think we’ve even begun to see his full potential. He’s a solid answer to any permanent and can singlehandedly take over a game. It is very difficult for you to actually kill him without something like Beast Within or Oblivion Ring, but his unique ability can make for some awesome stories. If the format ends up being heavy on the control side, you can bet that Karn will be the deal breaker in a lot of control mirrors.

17. Venser, the Sojourner

Venser has been a severely underrated planeswalker in Standard because he is always fighting over slots that other planeswalkers fill. With enough love, he could be really strong in Standard and is definitely a place where I want to start brewing for a control deck. His ultimate ability, while not game-ending by itself, is still really awesome. If Birthing Pod continues to push towards Bant, you can definitely jam some Vensers into the mix for added value. Some decks are even cold to Venser with Stonehorn Dignitary, though most decks will be able to draw out of it eventually.

16. Beast Within

The “green Vindicate,” this card is incredibly underrated, but I think that’s mostly due to the fact that green is generally underrated as a color. With access to Slagstorm, and any other sweepers that Innistrad might bring, Beast Within might end up with a good home. We’ve already seen some Dungrove Elder decks here and there, packing a wallop with Green Sun’s Zenith, but I think that Beast Within will be best utilized alongside Acidic Slime and other disruption.

15. Ponder

Ponder is going to lose a bit of value with fetchlands rotating out, so this number will probably change in the near future, but there isn’t a lot of solid card selection without Ponder in a blue deck. Raw card advantage will be hard to come by, but Think Twice is getting reprinted, so there might be a little bit of hope there. Other than that, I think we’ll probably be jamming Ponder and Snapcaster Mage into the same deck, if only for consistency.

14. Green Sun’s Zenith

This card is quite busted in Modern and Legacy, and I expect that to stay the same for Standard, but losing Valakut makes this a lot less awesome, since Primeval Titan is effectively neutered. However, it seems like some of the spicier creatures from Innistrad are green, giving you a lot of options between Birthing Pod and Green Sun’s Zenith.

13. Despise

Without Inquisition of Kozilek around, this will be the default discard spell, since most decks will feature a slew of creatures or a few choice planeswalkers (or both). You don’t even have Duress anymore, making this a no-brainer. I would pick up a lot of these before they skyrocket in price. Does anyone else remember $7 Inquisition of Kozilek? I do.

12. Shrine of Burning Rage

Don’t ever count red out, even with them losing a lot of cards. They’ll be sure to get some new weapons, and Shrine of Burning Rage will be as potent as ever. This is my least favorite card in Magic at the moment, but only because I lose to it so much. Every red deck should be packing four of these, and it really isn’t even close.

11. Inferno Titan, Grave Titan, Sun Titan, Frost Titan, Primeval Titan

I’m under the impression that Standard will be very creature-heavy after Innistrad, since it seems like they’re going for a lot of flavor with Werewolves and Vampires, making Inferno Titan my top pick for control finisher. However, Grave Titan is still absurd and will definitely be a threat for black-based control decks or Birthing Pod decks that play black. I’m not certain Sun Titan will be as strong as he was before the rotation of Zendikar, since you lose Tectonic Edge and fetchlands, but I’m sure bringing back Blade Splicer won’t be all that bad.

The Titans are back for another year, and I’m sure they’ll all be good at some point.

10. Consecrated Sphinx

In Block, this guy was an absolute monster, and I’m sure it will be no different in Standard. He’s already making a lot of waves in Caw-Blade, as well as U/B Control, but he’s always fighting over the slot with Titans. His strength really depends on the strength of the rest of your deck because Titans can usually win the game on their own. Consecrated Sphinx usually needs a little help.

9. Mental Misstep

With Spell Pierce leaving the format, this card seems primed to jump into the early removal slot for control decks, much like it has in a few lists of Caw-Blade. While I don’t think many non-blue decks will play the card, it has a lot of range due to the Phyrexian mana cost. The need for it might be lessened with the absence of Goblin Guide, but I still think it will be a solid card to have access to.

8. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas

I think this might be the point in time where Tezzeret really shines. He’s always been “good,” but now he really has a chance to be great. With so many of the format’s more aggressive early threats rotating, as well as a lot of staples for red decks like Lightning Bolt, he’s relatively safe in the early turns of the game. With access to Spellskite and a lot of other goodies from Scars of Mirrodin block, you can bet that Tezzeret will definitely make an impact on Standard.

7. Darkslick Shores, Copperline Gorge, Seachrome Coast, Razorverge Thicket, Blackcleave Cliffs

These will be the best duals for Standard, hands down, and every allied-color deck should begin with four of these. This will be your best mana-fixing option to begin with, but don’t treat deckbuilding with these lightly. Having too many will lead to some really awkward turns later in the game. I can say from experience in Block Constructed that playing more than five or six total between three-color decks can be very taxing.

6. Inkmoth Nexus

This card gets a high placement if only for its versatility. We’ve seen it in aggro decks, control decks, and even combo decks in Modern. I don’t think I really need to explain why the card is good, but Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas might be in the mood for a comeback tour. With Tempered Steel and Swords still around, this guy isn’t going anywhere.

5. Puresteel Paladin

This guy was a hit in block and even made some splashes in Standard for a while. I know that losing Basilisk Collar sucks, but I don’t think it will be that big of a deal. The rest of the deck stays mostly intact, and you can even add some other goodies to the mix that were more popular in Block Constructed, but I’m fairly certain that Mirran Crusader is where you want to be at. Everyone and their mama is going to be playing Dismember, and even more so with Red decks losing a lot of their raw power, so having a creature that is immune to the “colorless” removal spell and suits up with Swords quite nicely is something I’d definitely want to have around.

4. Dismember

Dismember will be in almost every deck in Standard in some number, but building your deck to utilize it seems like where I would want to start. Clearly, this is the best removal spell in Standard and will continue to be until Wizards decides to release a version that costs one less mana. I don’t like the idea of playing too many of these in a deck without black mana, but I’d still recommend playing at least two in virtually every deck. There are very few creatureless decks, but you can’t really help having dead cards against those kinds of decks.

I think this might be one of WotC’s bigger mistakes in the last few sets, but I don’t think it is ban-worthy by any means. Think of this card like the Umezawa’s Jitte for current Standard. Every deck can play it, but not all decks want to. Creature wars are won with it, but there is always going to be a liability or drawback. With Jitte, it was tempo loss should the creature or Jitte die before connecting. With Dismember, the life loss could end up being a vital reason why you lost, or it could end up being un-castable in the later turns of the game.

3. Birthing Pod

Possibly the most interesting card that isn’t affected by the bannings, Birthing Pod is still around and will still continue to ruin people. All the hits are staying, but the deck will lose a bit of explosiveness with the rotation of Lotus Cobra. The mana base could become a bit worse, but it will probably just encourage people to play an “allied” combination like Bant or Naya. With fetchlands out of the picture, I don’t think you’d want to tempt fate with a RUG concoction. As more cards are released from Innistrad, we’ll see if there are any sweet creatures to throw into the mix, and I’m sure that they’ll make use of the U/G dual land, but the most exciting aspects of Birthing Pod decks are the creatures.

2. Tempered Steel

This deck is possibly the one that remains the most intact after the rotation. Tempered Steel’s creatures are pretty much exclusive to Scars of Mirrodin block, making sure they’re going to be sticking around for quite some time. Tempered Steel does have a lot of weaknesses, but that doesn’t make the strategy any less potent. Without dedicated hate, you can bet this deck will be the top aggro deck of the format once the new set is released.

1. Jace, Memory Adept

Just from what I’ve seen in the current spoilers, you would do well to buy a playset of these before they skyrocket into the $40 range. This guy combos well with a lot of the new interesting cards from Innistrad involving flashback, removing creature cards from your graveyard, or cards that check the number of creature cards in your graveyard. He also has the ability to just card-advantage your opponent to death, but I’m thinking that he’s going to be used to mill yourself…a lot. Expect him to team up with the new Liliana, as I’m sure you’ll want to fill your graveyard with interesting cards as quickly as possible.



For whatever it’s worth, this list only comprises cards that I think will be absolute staples once the format rotates, but there will be plenty of cards that begin to see play once awesome interactions are found with cards in Innistrad. There are plenty of other cards in Standard that didn’t make the list that work well with others, and even some of these are just versatile staples that will see play in a variety of decks. That doesn’t mean you should ignore everything else in Standard and build from here. This is just a jumping off point.

I’m not that great at building decks in new formats, but I’ve been trying to get better at it (without much luck). I’m very good at fleshing out optimal configurations of known decks, but deckbuilding itself is much more of an art form than a science. If you take anything from this article, just think of it as my way of beginning deckbuilding for a brand new format, but keep in mind I’m not even brewing with the new set yet! As of writing this, about 1/2 the cards from Innistrad have been spoiled, and there are a lot of cards that I’m particularly interested in. If you have some ideas about cards that I’ve omitted, please feel free to discuss them in the comments. 

The Prerelease for Innistrad is a little over a week away, and I’ll try to turn out a few decklists before SCG Open: Nashville for you to brew with next Thursday. Until then, keep an eye on the spoilers, and I’ll see you next week!

Thanks for reading.


strong sad on MOL