Preparing For A New Standard

Four-time SCG Invitational Top 8 competitor Shaheen Soorani speculates about the fate of control after rotation in the new Standard format with Theros.

While driving to the last StarCityGames.com Invitational before a completely new format, thoughts of the future kept popping into my head. In the morning, my sleeved up Esper Walkers deck would battle in its last battle, fight in its last fight. Then a new era of control would begin to unfold. This article will be more abstract one than usual and will require some imagination as well as speculation. We will discuss a world after the rotation of M13 and Innistrad block, talk about cards to hold on to and cards to ditch, and attempt to guess what might be waiting for us in Theros block.

We could just patiently wait for all the cards to be released and then build our deck, but that isn’t my style. I enjoy having blueprints ready to go and then altering appropriately as cards from the next set become known. This rotation is going to hurt less than any other in recent history for one reason: the Azorius guild. Thanks to Return to Ravnica, we have card draw (Sphinx’s Revelation), spot removal (Detention Sphere), and mass removal (Supreme Verdict) all in the same guild. The addition of Aetherling from Dragon’s Maze gives us the skeleton to move forward and make control dominant in a few months.

Key Cards Lost

Rotation will take a great deal from the format. This section is not solely for cards we lose but for cards that when gone will change the format forever. Since so many cards are leaving, I’m not going to mention everything. This segment will focus on cards that when gone will increase control’s chances of dominating.

Geist of Saint Traft

M14 brought us another hexproof fatty with Witchstalker. The key difference is this card is mediocre and Geist of Saint Traft is, as we all know by now, completely insane. With Geist leaving, the Bant Hexproof archetype will likely vanish with it. Again, I’m speculating and guessing about the future, but that is half the fun when predicting what will be waiting for us. Geist has been a thorn in the side of control players since the days of U/W Delver, and even though it has lost a lot of its flare lately, I’m still quite happy to see it go. Hexproof is a powerful mechanic, and six power for three mana with the majority of that being evasive is a powerful weapon against the forces of good.

Huntmaster of the Fells; Thragtusk; Olivia Voldaren; Kessig Wolf Run, Garruk, Primal Hunter; Liliana of the Veil

Together, we will watch the death of Jund, and we will laugh. If you read my last article, you’ll understand my hatred of Jund and the horrendous matchup it presented. After rotation, nearly all the threatening cards will cease to exist and move into the Modern format for good. Theros will print a few cards to replace some heavy hitters if history repeats itself, but it won’t print enough to salvage this specific threat.

If Jund somehow survives through a series of strong prints, it still will never present the same threat for us control mages. Creatures like Huntmaster of the Fells and Thragtusk are very resilient to the removal we use, and Olivia Voldaren makes control decks that utilize creatures much weaker. Kessig Wolf Run made a Wolf that lingered behind a lethal threat instantly, and I was never a Ghost Quarter kind of guy.

Lastly, the planeswalkers were the real bullets against defenseless control wizards. A resolved Garruk, Primal Hunter made winning borderline impossible. The repeated threats were bad enough, but the absurd card draw from the second ability puts the nail in the coffin. Garruk has been one of the most devastating planeswalkers to play against for the past year, and even his Relentless brother presents a huge problem for control mages.

While playing Esper or similar decks, we simply don’t assemble enough of a board presence via creatures to take down a resolved planeswalker on the enemy’s field. As a result, we’re left to answer back with a vulnerable Detention Sphere and pray for safe passage to the end of the game. But for those of you who have battled with or against Jund, you’re readily aware that they always have that Abrupt Decay waiting for you at the end of turn.

Liliana of the Veil is another planeswalker that was once an ally but has become a truly evil nemesis in the hands of Jund players everywhere. With the new legend rule in full effect, I’m very thankful to see it go. The vindicate option was our best defense against Lilly, and now that the option has been removed, we have to wait out this storm for a few more months. So friends lets sing that heeeeyyyyyyyy gooooodddbbyyyeeee song for those Junders out there. Time to celebrate!

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben; Champion of the Parish; Flinthoof Boar; & Other Blitz Things!

Let’s be honest; with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben gone, who cares about Naya Blitz? We didn’t care if they played six creatures by turn 4 in the first place. We cared about one of them being Thalia to prevent our Supreme Verdict from crushing their face in. With the absence of huge Champions of the Parish, Mayors pumping their citizens, and the attacking Sphere of Resistance, our aggro game will undoubtedly get easier. R/G still has a good amount of aggressive weapons in Domri Rade, Burning-Tree Emissary, and Experiment One, which means after another set is added I’m sure it will survive in some fashion, but the true blessing is Thalia’s disappearance and the number of second-turn losses as a result.

Unburial Rites, Acidic Slime, Restoration Angel, Gavony Township, Cavern of Souls

Another glorious rotation cycle that cripples Junk Reanimator. Who here isn’t glad to see Acidic Slime go? If you enjoy my articles and/or enjoy a control deck here and there, you have to appreciate the removal of the Slimey land destroyer. I thought that guy would never leave!

As for Restoration Angel, we control players were never too worried about the flashy blinker. As long as it wasn’t Slimeing us or sending another Collector of Sin our way, we were feeling pretty good. The lands of Junk Reanimator as well as the meat of the deck will be weakened significantly and much more than a new card or two can salvage in my opinion.

Keeper Cards

There are many other cards rotating and a few I’m glad to see go, but the following cards are really the reasons to get really excited for a new Standard. Let’s talk about cards that will gain power and momentum after the dust settles.


This is the win condition of the future. In a world without Titans, there is only one six-drop that control decks can count on, and that’s Big Blue here. At first I was skeptical, but it turns out I was in the wrong. Aetherling provides an impossible threat to deal with and also a defensive powerhouse when facing down large ground creatures. Aetherling was dominant at Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze, and large Block Constructed tournaments have usually been a pretty good window into future Standard formats. Not only has Big Blue been strong in Block Constructed, but also you will be hard pressed to find a control deck that isn’t using at least one copy in its 75. The price right now is very reasonable, and I would be sure to have at least two in preparation for rotation.

Jace, Architect of Thought and Jace, Memory Adept

As formats get weaker and decks get a bit slower, strong planeswalkers get even stronger. This general rule of rotation applies to other things besides planeswalkers, of course, but cards that are slow but powerful benefit from a halt in aggressive speed. Take a card like Experiment One. After rotation, it will lose multiple components that made it a threat to be reckoned with. With so many powerful one drops rotating, Burning Earth having little to no effect on two-color decks with nine basics, and backbreakers like Hellrider and Thundermaw Hellkite taking a leave of absence, planeswalkers are looking better and better.

Jace, Memory Adept is a planeswalker that ends the game when unanswered. Since the vast majority of control cards from Azorius are sticking around, you’ll have more situations where Jace, Memory Adept can be unstoppable. Thanks to the new legend rule this situation will also be a nightmare in the control mirror because no longer can you simply play one of your own to get yourself out of that sticky situation.

Jace Architect of Thought is pretty good now but will only be better after rotation. People have lost faith and praised little Jace repeatedly since it became Standard legal, and we will be on the "praise" curve after the release of Theros. The Architect draws you cards and prevents damage—it’s pretty hard to ask for much more. With the rotation of all the other control planeswalkers (Sorin, Lord of Innistrad; Tamiyo, the Moon Sage; and Liliana of the Veil), the responsibility will rest squarely on the shoulders of team Jace. I hear whispers of a great Elspeth on the horizon, but even if the new set provides us one great planeswalker, we will be adding him/her to the already made blue team.

Azorius Charm, Detention Sphere, Supreme Verdict, Sphinx’s Revelation

The Azorius team is still fully intact ladies and gentlemen. As we discussed before, there have been very few rotations where cards that I love and depend on stick around in full. This rotation has the feel of a rebirth of control dominance, and it will be on the back of the Azorius guild. The instant speed removal of Azorius Charm deals with almost every threat immediately, and Detention Sphere serves an even broader purpose. Both cards deal with annoying keywords like indestructible and regenerate but unfortunately not hexproof.

Detention Sphere will also be the solution to noncreatures in a blind format once Theros is upon us. Wraths are at full strength after rotation kicks in. I made an oath to never play a deck (especially when the format is brand new) that does not include board sweeps, and I don’t plan on breaking that oath here. A lot of people choose to play safe, aggressive decks when the format is unknown. I, on the other hand, prefer to play the most powerful control cards at our disposal, and new formats are where I have the most success. Nearly all my creative control decks were created right before the first event they were legal in, and that will be the case in a few months.

Sphinx’s Revelation is the card that will skyrocket in price again when the vast majority of decks will be jamming three or four (I recently picked up my third Revelation in anticipation for the new control environment, so I suggest you all do the same if you don’t have them already). Sphinx’s Revelation was another card that I wasn’t excited to run three or four of because of the existence of Forbidden Alchemy. Forbidden Alchemy gave us chances to hit land drops, dig deep for answers and give a late game boost in card advantage.

These benefits are shared by using Sphinx’s Revelation; however, hitting land drops is something Forbidden Alchemy makes much easier. Having an opening hand with two Revelations and a couple lands is an immediate mulligan, but having one of them and a Forbidden Alchemy is an easy keep. However, Forbidden Alchemy is gone, so the new incarnations of blue control decks will have to up the land and/or cantrips. Another notable card lost is Think Twice, but I’m sure something will pair with Azorius Charm to help move through your deck with ease.

Domri Rade; Garruk, Caller of Beasts; Ajani, Caller of the Pride

These planeswalkers were born and immediately placed in aggressive decks. When Ajani came out I cringed; I thought this was the easy answer for control decks and we were in big trouble. It turns out people were not too interested in it, and a small celebration occurred in the control camp. After rotation and the aforementioned Azorius powerhouses that remain, Ajani will again be a huge threat if played, so watch out.

Planeswalkers that are cheap like Ajani and Domri only need a ragged home to shine in. Both planeswalkers simply need a bunch of cheap creatures to make control players shake their head in disbelief as the card advantage or massive power advantage racks up. Make sure not to leave home without a full set of answers to these cheap planeswalkers or you’ll find yourself on the losing end of that battle.

Garruk, Caller of Beasts is still an unclear threat in the current metagame. At this point both of the other Garruks are just better. Garruk, Primal Hunter is the king of the hill that defeats control players by itself with no assistance, and Garruk Relentless is almost as scary. The new Garruk at six is definitely worse than the other two, but the loyalty is so high that killing it with the average control weaklings will be difficult. This card and the smaller two planeswalkers we discussed will all be used and better after rotation kicks in, and we have to make sure we have the necessary answers to deal with them using the most recent block and Theros.

There are some other cards that will increase in power once a rotation occurs, but it is hard to speculate. Cards like Doom Blade could be amazing if the new set doesn’t provide any powerful black aggressive creatures. At this point, Doom Blade can’t kill any important Aristocrats (both Cartel and Falkenrath) and is worse than Warped Physique in most situations. Ral Zarek and Assemble the Legion could be good enough reason for the U/W shell to add red depending on the mana fixing and cards printed from the red school in Theros.

Possible Cards Coming

With every new set, I pray for a Wall of Omens. [Editor’s Note: These are words I never thought I’d see printed.] Even if Wall of Omens isn’t printed, I hope for a two-mana cantrip that provides something to the board state. Spreading Seas was really awesome, and Augur of Bolas did work for a while in place of the last two. With Augur of Bolas and Think Twice gone, there will be a gap in the two slot for control. Even though we have Azorius Charm, there is still some need for more.

A decent counterspell would also help bolster our Azorius shell. At this point, Render Silent or Cancel will be a two-of to answer threats in the late game. Without Snapcaster Mage, I assume that R&D will make a few pretty awesome spells that we will be able to use, and a counter will probably be one of them. A two-mana counter outside of Negate or Essence Scatter is unlikely, although Mana Leak would be sweet. I predict another three-mana counterspell that has some flavor of the new set. Dissipate fit Innistrad, and I think the new set will do something similar depending on what mechanics it provides.

At this point it’s hard to predict specific cards being printed. The best we can do is to use previous rotations and sets to predict card types that will be made. I can near guarantee a playable card draw spell because at this point we have Divination and that isn’t going to cut it. Sphinx’s Revelation alone can’t handle the burden for card draw, and I can easily predict an early card draw spell to help move things along. I hope whatever comes will be better than Think Twice, but I won’t be upset if it’s on the same level. I was never a huge fan of Think Twice, but I ran it because it was a necessary evil. Any card made that is similar will automatically be included in as a two-of minimum, which gives us six cantrips to cycle through the 60.

There will be a series of decent creatures that can fit as control win conditions. The reason why this eventual print probably won’t be very exciting is because of the power of Aetherling. I doubt there will be an awesome creature made that defeats Aetherling in the power arena besides a Titan cycle, but we all know that is pretty unlikely. A Greek-themed set could have a Titan theme and I have heard rumors of Sun Titan, but realistically I doubt they will get reprinted. The Titans were a bit too good as a cycle, and I don’t think we will see them again.

Consecrated Sphinx is another absurd card that would draw me away from the new Morphling, but again I think we are going to be riding Aetherling out until next year. Cheaper cards like Emeria Angel or Blade Splicer would work in conjunction with an expensive end-game finisher and would be a nice sweetener in the new 75.

Lastly, there will be some removal printed. Blue and white always have a tough time finding good removal, but the printing of Celestial Flare and Ratchet Bomb in addition to already having a few decent ones puts us in a good spot for the new Standard. Any removal spell that Theros provides will have tough competition to find a space in our deck, but we will always welcome powerful cards to the control family. At this point we have enough removal to handle any challenge presented, but decks can always get better.

From rotations of the past and the shift to a "two-color" flavor that Theros will probably present us, I truly feel that Azorius will be the first deck to launch in a new Standard. The shell of Azorius is just too strong and too intact compared to the shambles of other decks that may try to salvage themselves using parts of Theros to patch the holes.

Thank you for having an open mind while you read and speculating with me on how Standard will look after rotation. I had a lot fun writing this article and bringing you guys into my world. I do this with every rotation and prepare mentally for what I’m going to take down States with or whatever Open decides to be right after the set release. So pick up them Azorius cards if you don’t already own them (most of my readers are control equipped) and prepare to draw some cards, wrath some creatures, and Aetherling our opponents out of the game. Whenever you hear "let’s be safe and play aggro," tell them no thanks, sleeve up Azorius, and hammer your opposition into the ground with superior card quality.

I’ve been asked by Cedric to write more often, so expect two articles a month while work allows it, and thanks for all the kind words you guys have said over the years about my writing and general career in Magic. Without you guys I would have left the game ages ago, and now I’m just as excited as I was when I was battling in Onslaught Regionals! See you all next time.


Twitter – @shaheenmtg

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