Unbelievably, five of my last six articles have been about Modern or Legacy. The only one that touched on Magic’s most popular format (which you might want to read if you haven’t yet) was more interested in talking about how to start a Standard collection from scratch. It’s been quite a while since I’ve taken a real look at the current state of the format.
This changes today. We’ve got about six weeks until Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged rotate out of the format, so there’s still a little time to build and play one of the current top decks. Rotation is imminent, however, so it’s also worth starting to think about what the format might look like two months from now. Will any of today’s top decks survive? What cards might be on the cusp of seeing more play? What staples might crash as rotation approaches? Let’s find out.
Anyone who has played Standard since the release of Battle for Zendikar knows that the current format is defined by its excellent mana. The tri-lands and creature lands are nice, but the interaction between the Khans fetchlands and Zendikar’s Battle lands gives Standard brewers unprecedented access to three-, four-, and five-color deck possibilities. Wizards R&D has since claimed that this interaction was a mistake they are unlikely to repeat anytime soon, but I hope they change their mind. Great-mana Standard has actually been a pretty fun and balanced format.
I usually talk about Standard in terms of archetypes — aggro, midrange, control, occasionally combo — but this time I’m going to start with the most mana-hungry decks and end with the least. While some of the three- and four-color decks might survive rotation, they’re going to have the hardest time making their mana work without the fetches. These decks also lose the big three-color payoff cards from Khans of Tarkir — Manta Rider, Siege Rhino, Cracking Doom, Abzan Charm, and Anafenza the Foremost. Mardu, Abzan and Jeskai will still be good for the next six weeks, but I doubt they have a future beyond that.
- 4 Nantuko Husk
- 3 Elvish Visionary
- 3 Sidisi's Faithful
- 4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 3 Catacomb Sifter
- 4 Zulaport Cutthroat
- 3 Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
- 4 Reflector Mage
Standard has adjusted to Rally over the past few weeks (Dispel! Hallowed Moonlight!), but if you ask me to name the best deck in the format I’d still go with Four-Color Rally. It’s also the Standard deck you are most likely to run into on Magic Online, so even though I did talk a little about Rally in my “This Week’s Trends” section last week, let’s take the time to talk a little more about the deck’s financial future.
Interestingly enough, Rally isn’t all that expensive beyond a few key cards. Outside of its manabase, Rally only runs four to five rares: Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim, Rally the Ancestors, Collected Company, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and (in some builds) Anafenza, the Foremost.
Normally, cards like Ayli and Rally would have spiked to $7-$8 each and I’d be recommending you sell them before rotational malaise sets in. After all, they’re staples in the format’s best deck. With Jace up at $80 though, the buy-in for Rally has proven too steep for many casual FNMers. This has prevented the lesser cards from breaking $3. Heck, Anafenza is a mythic rare four-of in multiple top decks right now and she’s actually dropped in price over the past two months.
As I’m sure you’re already aware, the real money in Rally is locked away in Jace and Collected Company. It doesn’t seem to matter what else happens in Standard, these two cards continue to gain value. Is that likely to continue? Well, Jace seems like he will continue being excellent well into the next Standard format (Delirium is tailor-made for the precocious telepath) and Collected Company has proven itself to be a top-tier Modern staple.
Bizarrely, this makes Four-Color Rally a reasonably good choice to invest in right now. I don’t see how it survives rotation without its namesake card, but 90% of your buy-in is in the form of Modern staples like Jace, Collected Company, and the Khans of Tarkir fetchlands. All these cards will be excellent long after your Rally deck has won its last match.
This is the sort of four-color midrange list that isn’t going to survive rotation in any meaningful way. Siege Rhino, Soulfire Grand Master, Abzan Charm, Crackling Doom, and the fetchlands are all leaving us, and it’s certainly not going to be any easier to cast a three-color Painful Truths two months from now. All of those cards are on the financial downswing for obvious reasons.
There are some newer cards worth talking about here, though. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet has done nothing but increase in price since Oath of the Gatewatch was released, and I see no reason for that trend to stop any time soon. Kalitas has proven to be very powerful in many different decks, and it’s only going to get better with all the Zombies and Vampires head of us in Shadows Over Innistrad. I rarely suggest people to buy into rising tides, but this is a card I am aggressively targeting at retail when trading at FNM.
Mardu Green also makes good use of Chandra, Flamecaller who has been appearing everywhere without really breaking out over the past few weeks. It’s another very good buy at just $12 retail, and I think people are wildly underrating the card because it’s been a long time since we’ve had a Standard-playable Chandra.
I’ve been singing the praises of Goblin Dark-Dwellers for months, and it’s nice to see a deck actually taking advantage of their versatility. The current retail price of $4 is a little high, but I’ve noticed that most people seem to value these far less in trade. If you can snag a few at a discount, I would. Double red is actually kind of awkward to cast in today’s Standard, but that will change in a few weeks when the manabases shift back towards the more traditional two-color arrangements we usually see in Standard.
Lastly, let’s talk about the two signature Dragons of Tarkir rares that show up in Mardu Green: Kolaghan’s Command and Den Protector. These two cards have gone in different directions over recent months, with Command spiking while Den Protector has dropped from $18 to $8. Both cards still see a lot of play in Standard, so the difference mostly lies in Kolaghan’s Command strength in Modern. It’s possible that Kolaghan’s Command will drop a little at rotation, especially if Eldrazi is still stomping every other Modern deck into dust, but its price trend (similar to Collected Company) is so robust that I wouldn’t count on it.
Den Protector, meanwhile, still has another short period of Standard legality to strut its stuff before rotating out. I do expect a drop to $3-$4 as rotation approaches, but there’s a decent chance that Den Protector will be a key piece in whatever green deck emerges after Shadows Over Innistrad is released. Selling now is the safest thing to do, but be aware that you could be missing one last spike by taking this approach.
Our tour of the four-color decks continues with Jeskai Black, a deck that combines pieces from the other two decks we’ve looked at so far. It has Jace and Reflector Mage from Four-Color Rally as well as Goblin Dark-Dwellers, Chandra, Flamecaller, and Crackling Doom from Mardu Green.
Jeskai Black loses a lot at rotation. Aside from the manabase, we will say goodbye to Mantis Rider, Seeker of the Way, Crackling Doom, Dig Through Time, and Jeskai Charm. The builds of Jeskai Black that run Soulfire Grand Master and Monastery Mentor won’t have access to those anymore either. Much like Four-Color Rally and Mardu Green, there’s no chance this deck survives in any recognizable form.
All of Jeskai Black’s rotating cards have been dropping for weeks. Dig Through Time and Mantis Rider can both be found for less than a buck if you look hard enough, and most of the uncommons are back down to near-bulk levels. Much like with Four-Color Rally, this is largely because of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and the Khans fetchlands. So much value is tied up in those cards that the price of everything else has been severely depressed. Other than the Dark-Dwellers, though, I don’t see much opportunity here for cards that could climb after rotation. By and large, this deck will be decimated by the loss of Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged.
Abzan Blue (& Abzan Aggro)
- 4 Anafenza, the Foremost
- 1 Wingmate Roc
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
- 4 Warden of the First Tree
- 1 Den Protector
- 1 Linvala, the Preserver
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 4 Anafenza, the Foremost
- 2 Wingmate Roc
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 4 Warden of the First Tree
- 4 Den Protector
- 3 Sylvan Advocate
I want to talk about these decks together because they’re very similar when it comes down to it. Some builds splash for Reflector Mage and others run Oath of Nissa and Stubborn Denial, but they all rely on the same base: Warden of the First Tree, Den Protector, Sylvan Advocate, Anafenza, the Foremost, Siege Rhino, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Silkwrap, Abzan Charm, Dromoka’s Command, and Murderous Cut.
At their heart, these are both Anafenza/Siege Rhino decks. These two cards are fairly cheap at the moment, but they should drop even lower as we get closer to rotation. Seige Rhino is probably going to be a nice buy at or around $1 in five or six weeks—especially since its Modern utility is going to be pretty low until the Eldrazi menace is banned. Trading out of your Rhinos at $3 is reasonable if you can still do it. Ditto Anafenza at $4.50 — you’ll be able to pick her up for $1.50 or $2 in a couple of weeks, so ship ’em if you aren’t gonna play ’em.
Let’s talk a little about Sylvan Advocate, though. The Elf Druid Ally’s price has have leveled off some since its value peak about two weeks ago, but it continues to show up in multiple Tier One decks. I love two-drops that are cheap, powerful, easy to cast, and good in lots of different shells, and I wouldn’t mind trading into a set of these at current retail.
- 1 Warden of the First Tree
- 3 Stratus Dancer
- 2 Den Protector
- 4 Deathmist Raptor
- 3 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 4 Bounding Krasis
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
We’ve finally made it to the three-color decks! While Bant Company attacks the format in a different way than Four-Color Rally, it also relies heavily on the power level of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Collected Company. Unlike Four-Color Rally however, Bant Company should be sticking around through rotation. The deck loses Wingmate Roc (a card that’s not even used by all builds of Bant Company) and its all-important manabase, but other than that you’ll be able to sleeve these guys up for another couple of months.
Can Bant Company really survive the loss of Flooded Strand and Windswept Heath? I think so. Company is mostly a U/G deck that splashes white for Reflector Mage, (most critically) Wingmate Roc, Dromoka’s Command, Ojutai’s Command, and some sideboard cards (less critical/build dependent). Post-rotation Bant Company might just end up as a Simic deck, and I think it could make that switch without losing too much power. It might also just use the Battle lands and creature lands to splash white for just a few cards.
Unlike Four-Color Rally, which is cheap outside of Jace and Collected Company, the rest of the Bant Company list is filled with rares and mythics. From Dragons of Tarkir alone, there’s Den Protector, Stratus Dancer, Deathmist Raptor, Dromoka’s Command and Ojutai’s Command. Deathmist Raptor is the most expensive card on here, though it’s down significantly from its G/W Megamorph heyday of $25. Online, Deathmist Raptor has rebounded quite a bit thanks to this deck’s emergence. Its paper counterpart hasn’t followed suit, though, and I’m not quite sure why. Deathmist Raptor and Collected Company aren’t rotating in April, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this card makes another little jump back up to the $15 range at some point.
Should you buy into Bant Company right now? If you’re willing to make the Jace and Collected Company plunge, you should at least consider it. In looking at our potential post-rotation decks, this appears to be the best place to start.
Ah, the Atarka Red deck we all know and love. It’s a two-color deck most of the time, but it’s been known to dabble into black now and again for Brutal Hordechief and/or Painful Truths. This will have to change once we lose access to the fetchlands, of course. I suspect this deck will morph into Mono-Red after rotation.
Other than Bloodstained Mire and Wooded Foothills, Atarka Red is a pretty cheap deck. Abbot of Keral Keep is $10, but it’s playable in Modern so the price is fairly justifiable. Ditto Atarka’s Command at $16. Neither card is rotating out of Standard in April regardless, and both should continue to be good across multiple formats.
While I’m not sure that Atarka Red will survive the loss of Monastery Swiftspear, Hordeling Outburst, and Become Immense, Mono-Red and R/G aggro decks are almost always Standard-playable in some form. I expect Zurgo Bellstriker — still a bargain under $4 — to benefit from this shift somewhat. We might also see a shift back toward a Thunderbreak Regent-style midrange red deck. It’s also possible that we’re about to see a new Atarka Red variant start to dominate the Standard metagame.
Josh Utter-Leyton and Brian Braun-Duin have been promoting an ‘Atarka Tokens’ build that adds Pia and Kiran Nalaar as well as Nissa, Voice of Zendikar in order to go wide and open up another line of attack. The deck is all over MTGO right now, but Nissa is still just $12 in paper. As one of the most powerful cards in the format that doesn’t currently have a home, Nissa is certainly poised to jump if the ‘go wide’ version of Atarka Red performs well soon.
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 4 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 2 Dragonlord Atarka
- 2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
- 4 World Breaker
And we’re on to the purely two-color decks! At first glance, G/R Eldrazi seems like a deck that will survive this rotation without much difficulty, but I’m not so sure. The loss of Rattleclaw Mystic isn’t awful — some builds don’t even run the card, opting for Nissa, Vastwood Seer instead — but I’m not sure how well this deck will do without Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Ugin is the deck’s most important card in several key matchups, and G/R Eldrazi will have to rely on some combination of Chandra, Flamecaller, World Breaker, Dragonlord Atarka, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and Kozilek, the Great Distortion instead. I also suspect that Kozilek’s Return will end up as a maindeck answer more often once Ugin is gone. That whole paragraph sounds facetious — those are all powerful cards — but I am honestly questioning this deck’s ability to perform without Ugin.
Other people seem to agree with me here. G/R Eldrazi is a solid deck, but most of its staples have been dropping in recent weeks. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger spent the entire winter climbing, but both cards have lost value over the past month. Kozilek’s Return has dropped half its price since being spoiled, Dragonlord Atarka has been tanking since last April, and even World Breaker has been getting cheaper since it spiked during Oath‘s first week of Standard legality. Not a single card in this deck is trending up right now.
Is it worth buying into G/R Eldrazi, then? There certainly are enough nice things to ramp into right now, and most of the cards in this deck have room to grow if G/R Eldrazi (or something similar) ends up taking on a bigger share of the new metagame. All these cards keep on dropping, however, and that makes me wary. I’d at least like to wait until they hit some sort of bottom before I bought in. It is worth noting that this is yet another Chandra, Flamecaller deck, though. Why is she still just $12 again?
- 4 Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury
- 2 Flamewake Phoenix
- 4 Thunderbreak Regent
- 1 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
- 4 Hangarback Walker
- 4 Thopter Engineer
- 2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
We haven’t seen much of ol’ Hangarback Walker so far. Not only does Hangarback fold to Silkwrap, it doesn’t seem very well-positioned in a format overrun by Reflector Mages. The card’s price has reflected that drop, and the former Standard all-star is down to just $10. If you can trade your copies away anywhere near that price, I would.
The rest of this deck (again, fetchlands aside) is pretty cheap. Pia and Kiran Nalaar have certainly gotten more expensive in recent days, which makes sense — not only is it a good card in Standard, Chandra’s parents have started to show up in Modern as well. I’m not buying at $6 — I think it’ll drop closer to rotation — but it’s not a horrible price for a very powerful card.
Can R/B Dragons survive rotation? Well, it’s losing a large part of its creature base in Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury and Flamewake Phoenix, so I doubt it. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of its better pieces — Pia and Kiran Nalaar and Thunderbreak Regent, most likely — end up at the center of another red-based aggro or midrange deck, though. Thunderbreak seems a tad underpriced to me at $3.89, and I’d keep an eye on that card during Shadows spoiler season.
Overall Format Thoughts
There are a few other decks I’ve seen pop up here and there — Jeskai Aggro, Grixis Control, Esper Control, Mardu Aggro, Mono-Green Eldrazi, Mono-Blue Eldrazi, Esper Dragons, Abzan Displacer — but none of them have a significant enough share of the metagame to be worth highlighting here. For now, the world of Standard still belongs to Siege Rhino, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and Collected Company. In six weeks, one of those cards will be leaving us for the Eldrazi-infested waters of Modern. What might the format look like then?
Of the ten most-played creatures in Standard, three are rotating — Siege Rhino, Anafenza, the Foremost, and Arashin Cleric. Zulaport Cutthroat and Reflector Mage are sticking around, but both will probably see less play going forward. Cutthroat isn’t as good without Rally the Ancestors, and Reflector Mage will be much harder to splash without the fetchlands. That leaves Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, Sylvan Advocate, Den Protector, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, and Goblin Dark-Dwellers. I expect to see plenty of all five of those creatures this summer.
It’s common sense, but it’s also worth noting that the Battle lands and creature-lands are poised to go up at rotation as well. We’ve only needed one or two of each Battle land with the fetches around, but full playsets will likely be needed six weeks from now. Ditto for the creature lands — pick up your sets now if you haven’t done so yet.
We might not know was Standard will look like in April, but the clues have already started to reveal themselves. Do you have a line on a deck that might break out once the rhinos have sieged their last? Let’s talk about them in the comments!
This Week’s Trends
The Eldrazi have been extending their noodly appendages into Legacy. Thorn of Amethyst is a solid card in that deck, and it has spiked accordingly. Let’s wait until we see some of the lists out of #SCGPHILLY before we go too nuts, but it is worth noting that the Eldrazi pieces are much, much less likely to see a ban in Legacy.
Scorched Ruins was also bought out this week. Unlike Thorn of Amethyst, it’s a Legacy Eldrazi piece that’s on the Reserved List. Also unlike Thorn of Amethyst, it’s not a very good card. I’m selling into the hype.
Speaking of Legacy, a deck with Guided Passage — yes, that Guided Passage — has been making the rounds on MTGO. I have no idea if this is actually a playable card in Legacy (I suspect not) but it’s been an underrated Commander staple forever. Oh, and it’s only been printed once, back in Invasion. I’d like to have a playset kicking around just in case.
Eternal Masters speculation continues to cause Reserved List cards to spike. Null Rod was bought out entirely, but now it’s back down to a much more reasonable $30. The important thing here is not to buy into any of these spikes — these cards may be on the Reserved List, but that doesn’t mean they’ll just go up and up forever. You’ll have a chance to buy in for less later if you’re willing to be patient.
Conspiracy: Take the Crown has been confirmed as another supplemental set this summer. I’m excited (I loved the last Conspiracy set) but this means that there will be six (!!) Magic sets released in 2016. That’s a lot of cards! I’m not quite sure what this will mean in terms of the overall feel of the year — Excitement? Fatigue? Both? — but I do think it’s less safe than ever to be holding Legacy and Commander staples that are only expensive because they haven’t been printed in a long time. There’s no need to panic-sell anything, but if you’ve got an extra Phyrexian Altar you aren’t using now is the time to ship it.