We have complete results for US Regionals, and a Ninth Edition spoiler courtesy of MTG Salvation. Almost half the cards in the base set are rotating. The effect on the metagame is at once both huge and insignificant – and that tells us a lot about base sets.
The Eighth- to Ninth-edition rotation will be upon us soon, with the new cards tournament legal on August 20th. That is the week after US Nationals – after that event, Standard will be played with a new base set.
The sheer number of cards rotating is huge. 162 of the cards now in Eighth Edition won’t survive the rotation. Basic lands aside, that means that half the set is leaving. (This is comparable to the 7th to 8th edition rotation, which changed out 165 cards.) In a few cases, the changes are truly minor, such as Razortooth Rats replacing Severed Legion. Other changes, such as the return of all ten painlands, will be significant. What is most striking, however, is how few base set cards are actually played in standard tournaments.
Let’s look at the big decks from US Regionals, and see what effects the changes will have. In doing this analysis, I have leaned heavily on the StarCityGames.com Deck Database, and the statistical samples it produced on US Regionals results. This is an incredible resource – use it.
Tooth and Nail
Tooth and Nail is the 800-pound gorilla of this metagame, and the signature spell – and the creatures it fetches, are all from block. The rotation does nothing to Kiki-Jiki, Sundering Titan, and the combos, like Mephidross Vampire/Triskelion or Leonin Abunas/Platinum Angel. The rotation will not remove the Urzatron, nor the search cards that go fetch it. It also won’t remove Eternal Witness, the redundancy that makes the whole mess just that much better.
The one change that will affect Tooth and Nail is the removal of Plow Under. Plow is gone. Over half the Tooth decks maindecked the card, and most of the rest had it in the sideboard. Vine Trellis is also rotating out, but Plow Under is the critical piece.
Plow Under was Tooth’s disruption – the thing it could do until it got its main combo to fire. Plow Under was Time Walk and mana denial in one, and it bought Tooth players extra turns. Plow Under was critical in some matchups; the Tooth specialists can better identify them, but I found it useful against Ponza and MUC and in the mirror.
I have seen posts in the forums calling for the banning of Tooth and Nail because it is too dominant. No need – Plow Under is leaving. I suspect that its loss brings Tooth down to at least the level of the other decks, if not tier 1.5. Sowing Salt, Quash, and other cards hurt Tooth, but Tooth could avoid having them hit by getting a fast Plow off. Once the rotation occurs, it can no longer take that option – nor can it use the Vernal Bloom alternative (which is also rotating out, although Heartbeat of Spring stays). Tooth also loses Vine Trellis, which was sideboarded against Slith Firewalkers. Llanowar Elves won’t do that job.
On the flip side, Tooth no longer needs to fear Plow from opposing decks.
Red Deck Wins
Here’s the other reason that Tooth is going to slip some: Red Deck Wins was already competitive, and it doesn’t lose anything significant to the Tooth matchup. Looking down the list of maindeck cards, the first loss was one RDW deck that had a single City of Brass (yes, City of Brass is rotating out). The only other base set cards seen in the maindeck were Shock and Raging Goblin, and Goblin Raider (which is rotating). No great losses.
The one big sideboard loss may be more significant. Boil is rotating out. It is being replaced by a Portal cards that does the same thing, but at Sorcery speed. That will be significant – it makes it harder to force a blue mage to tap out at the end of their turn. The other main sideboard card from Eighth Edition is Pyroclasm, which is staying. Ensnaring Bridge – only a minor presence this time around – will not be staying, however.
My initial assessment is that Red Deck Wins will still be a fine deck after the rotation. It doesn’t lose anything significant, but its main competitors all do. It does pick up some potential gems (Rathi Dragon, Shard Phoenix, and perhaps even Form of the Dragon) but most of those will modify the deck design, so I need to do some testing before talking about them.
Flores Red decks are also not significantly affected by the rotation.
Beacon Green (And Friends)
Beacon Green was third in number of Top 8s, and it is probably the deck most affected by the rotation. It loses both Birds of Paradise and Plow Under. The loss of Birds is huge, since Birds are both mana acceleration and an evasion creature that can wield a Sword of Fire and Ice or an Umezawa’s Jitte. Birds will be replaced by Llanowar Elves and Utopia Tree, but neither of these creatures has evasion. The days of flying over for a card on turn 3 are over.
The second major loss for Beacon Green is, once again, Plow Under. Plow Under is, really, the only disruption mono-green runs. Recurring a Plow Under with Eternal Witness is mono-green beatdown’s big elbow drop. It is the equivalent of land destruction in Ponza, or discard in black beatdown – it is what stops your opponent from playing their game while you are trying to play yours.
In rare cases, a beatdown deck can win purely on speed. More commonly, the best decks combine speed and disruption. On the flip side, think of the great beatdown decks that had disruption (e.g. White Weenie with Armageddon) when they lose that disruption. They stop being tier one. Erhnam Djinn was potent in Erhnam-Geddon, and unplayable when reprinted without ‘Geddon. Miracle Gro went from Tier One to unplayable when it lost Winter Orb (and some other cards.) Likewise, mono-green beats is nowhere near as good without Plow Under.
Jamie Wakefield Joshie Green also takes a hit. It loses one of its forest walkers (Rushwood Dryad), but that’s replaced by an identical card (Zodiac Monkey), so that makes no difference. Elvish Pioneer, however, is leaving. That acceleration, which had such great synergy with Blanchwood Armor, has no apparent replacement.
My expectation: mono-green beats is not going to stay tier one.
Mono Blue Control
Mono-blue control comes in two flavors nowadays: One type has the Urzatron, and wins games with Arcbound Reclaimer powering Triskelion or Mindslaver recursion. Here’s an example. The other flavor is a more traditional control deck, like this one, which has Meloku, Vedalken Shackles, and Bribery as kill cards, and runs lots of counters.
The first flavor will not see many losses in the next rotation. The only 8th Edition cards in the maindeck are Islands and Mana Leak, and they are both staying around. The sideboard of this particular deck has two copies of Bribery, but no other 8E cards. Bribery is leaving, but that may not be a huge loss for this version of the deck. (Note: playtest this to make sure – I have limited knowledge and no tournament experience sideboarding blue Urzatron.)
The other mono-blue control decks should see the loss of Bribery as a more serious problem. Bribery is a maindeck win condition in many builds. Bribery was a great method of dealing with opposing Eternal Witnesses (just keep taking them and Regrowing your Bribery), or other threat creatures like, Arashi, Kodama of the North Tree, and Troll Ascetics. Bribery also kept Darksteel Colossus out of Tooth decks. Bribery is a real loss.
Both flavors of blue decks lose some other sideboard staples. Blue loses Hibernation, its best answer to Trolls, leaving just Evacuation. It also loses Spectral Shift, which was mainly used to counter Boil and Choke. Now Boil is being replaced with a Sorcery and Choke is leaving, so Shift may not be a huge loss.
I can’t really predict whether mono-blue control gets better or worse after the rotation. Losing Bribery is a serious loss, especially against Tooth and mono-green, but those decks are losing Plow Under, which was blue’s biggest fear in those matchups. To the extent that green decks exist, and can play Arashi as an uncounterable answer to most of blue’s win conditions, mono blue control could be in trouble.
Blue Urzatron looks to be in better shape.
White weenie is another deck that doesn’t lose any maindeck cards, and the only sideboard card that is headed out the door is Karma. White weenie keeps its disruption (Hokori) and most of its critical pieces. I suspect that the rotation will have no effect on the deck or its place in the metagame. I’m not a WW expert – it’s not my kind of deck – so I’ll leave it there.
I will note that white is getting some nice new cards in the rotation, but I’ll leave that for another article.
The last archetype to post double-digit Top 8 appearances is black-green Death Cloud. Once again, this deck is relatively untouched – except for Plow Under. The deck will still do what it does – disrupt the opponent – but not as well or as quickly without Plow Under. I would not bet on Death Cloud against Tooth without Plow Under.
I’ll just touch on some other archetypes in passing. Ninja Rats stole some slots, and it looks fine. Karma is leaving, but I don’t know that Karma was widespread enough to have any impact on the rat decks. Five-color Gifts Ungiven is still probably playable. It may regret losing Plow Under, but its opposition regrets it more. It also loses some specialty cards, like Boil and Hibernation, but may pick up some answers in the new set. In any case, a five-color good stuff deck can find other good stuff to fill the slots.
The one card whose loss will have a really big impact: Plow Under.
The most notable result: half of the cards in the base set are rotating, and only five cards have any impact on the 250 or so T8 decks address above. That says a lot about the impact of the base set on Standard – namely, the base set is almost irrelevant. It’s even worse in Block Constructed.
(That’s a joke, okay?)
Wizards may want to work on making the base set a little more relevant. The base set should have some playable cards over and above the basic lands. (To be honest, there are several such cards – Mana Leak, Wood Elves, Suntail Hawk, Glorious Anthem, Shock, and Naturalize among them – but those cards are not rotating so I didn’t mention them.)
The one change that might have a serious impact on standard is the inclusion of pain lands, including Apocalypse pain lands, to the base set. I have to admit that I thought the Invasion taplands were acceptable (they were cheaper for new players, among other things), but they proved completely unplayable in practice, and they did not appear any of the above archetypes. Even City of Brass had no significant presence.
The rotation will bring us lots of new cards. Many could have an impact on Standard, but that is another article. Zvi has promised to do a review of Ninth before he heads off to his new job at Wizards. I look forward to that.