Who’s ready to battle?!
Battle for Zendikar,
that is. See you later, Theros, it was fun while it lasted. I think Standard has actually been in a great spot for some time now, with some ups
and some downs, and I don’t expect that to change as we go forward.
But before aspiring deckbuilders get a chance to tackle a fresh new Standard format with Battle for Zendikar, it’s important to look back at what
powerful cards are going to be sticking around to dominate post rotation, which cards might have a shot at being all stars in the near future, and which
cards we only have a little while longer to abuse before they leave Standard.
Since it’ll be hard to predict which cards are going to thrive without knowing exactly what’s in Battle for Zendikar, I’ll try and
provide a broad map for the future of already existing powerful cards and strategies. Hopefully it will stir your creative juices and give you an idea how
things might look going forward.
First of all, what sets are going to be in Standard once Battle for Zendikar is released?
Sets We Keep
Khans of Tarkir
Dragons of Tarkir
+ Battle for Zendikar
Sets Rotating Out
Born of the Gods
Journey Into Nyx
So we lose four sets and gain one. This is a big change that will completely shake up Standard and would also suggest the power level will likely decrease
since we have a smaller pool of cards to work with.
A review of Theros/Khans Standard:
– Diversity of viable archetypes without anything being too oppressive. Aggro, Midrange, Ramp, and Control have been represented at different points.
– Constantly shifting metagame. New decks emerged and innovation was rewarded, especially tuning a deck that would be last week’s best deck. It almost
became predictable that the format would change from week to week.
– Plenty of new powerful cards each set that didn’t completely take over the metagame.
– Siege Rhino, Courser of Kruphix, and Thoughtseize ate up a little bit too much of the metagame pie.
Keepers, Sleepers, and Goners
Keepers – Cards from Khans of Tarkir block and Magic Origins that survive the rotation and are powerful enough to essentially guarantee
they will show up and help define the next season of Standard.
Sleepers – Card from Khans of Tarkir block and Magic Origins that don’t see much play, are considered fringe playables, or sideboard
cards that might become important players in the next season. Some of these will be shots in the dark, depend on what gets printed in the future, or
already see play, but I expect them to see plenty more.
Goners – Cards from Theros block and M15 that are rotating out of Standard and were powerful enough to define their archetypes.
I won’t comment on every card I list since there are a lot of playable cards. Instead, I’ll just throw out what I think has potential, might be forgotten
otherwise, and comment on anything I think is interesting.
The first four cards here have some of the most raw power going into rotation and are a great starting point for new decks.
Siege Rhino – The top odd-toed ungulate in Standard will likely continue to be a big part of the metagame. Will Battle for Zendikar bring enough
good cards that actually go over the top of the Rhinumber one card in Standard?
Dragonlord Ojutai – Languish kind of put a damper on Dragonlord Ojutai, but you can expect a comeback. Counters and Dig Through Time will be great against
expensive tentacle monsters.
Dragonlord Atarka – Still one of the best cards you can ramp into. Omnath, Locus of Rage looks promising as well, and they could be played in the same
deck, or you could be killing opposing Omnaths.
Mantis Rider – What’s that? Oh you’re already dead to Mantis Rider by the time you finished this sentence. Super aggressive and efficient. Manabases might
get weird in the future, with four- and five- color ones being possible. Collected Company and Savage Knuckleblade could pair up with Mantis Rider for
Dromoka’s Command – Will continue to be great. Fleecemane Lion and a bunch of Theros enchantments leaving might reduce its relevance a little, but
Hangarback Walker still exists and it’s a very powerful card in combination with Dromoka’s Command.
Abzan Charm and Jeskai Charm – Abzan Charm is incredible. There’s going to be a bunch more gigantic creatures to exile, and exiling your opponents
creatures matters more now than ever thanks to cards like Blight Herder that care about exiled cards. Jeskai Charm works nicely with devoid and clearing
out pesky Eldrazi for a turn.
Ojutai’s Command – Great value against giant creatures or for returning Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy.
Anafenza, the Foremost – Exiling creatures is still great against Ojutai’s Command, Hangarback Walker, and with Eldrazi Processors.
Jeskai Ascendancy – Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Eldrazi Scions might reinvigorate token strategies. Did I mention Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Hangarback
Walker also work great here?
Crackling Doom – A card that always shows up in Mardu decks, it’s just a matter of how much play Mardu decks actually see.
Abzan Ascendancy – Works well with Hangarback Walker and in Rally the Ancestors decks with Nantuko Husk.
Savage Knuckleblade – Great with Collected Company and solid mana options.
Narset Transcendent – Where are all the creatureless control decks at? If Esper Control without Dragons were to make a comeback, then Narset would have a
Utter End – A card that hasn’t seen much play lately, but if the format slows down a little and exile is more important, it should start popping up more.
Dromoka, the Eternal + Dragonlord Dromoka – Elspeth, Sun’s Champion rotating opens the door up for some big powerful fliers coming into the format that
were a little too weak in comparison before.
Dragonlord Silumgar – Stealing a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and immediately using the Glorious Anthem effect seems dirty.
The rest of the Charms – Not particularity powerful or appearing to gain too much from the new set, but still versatile.
Xenagos, the Reveler and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver leaving are the biggest losses that will change the way ramp and control decks are built. Fleecemane
Lion’s departure will also hurt Abzan Aggro and other G/W Aggro strategies.
Silumgar’s Scorn, Clash of Wills, Disdainful Stroke – Silumgar’s Scorn is far and away the best remaining option as far as counters go post rotation,
assuming you’re playing supporting Dragons. Still, Clash of Wills and Disdainful Stroke should see more play as well, and not just because there aren’t as
many options. Counters in general will probably be a bit better as the format slows down a little since there are less powerful cards and there are
probably going to be more expensive ones with the rise of Eldrazi decks.
Dig Through Time – Dig is incredibly powerful, and it’s hard to imagine card draw much better than it, but hey, I wouldn’t say no to it.
Treasure Cruise – Fits into Jeskai Ascendancy decks or decks just splashing for blue.
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy – Quite possibly the best thing you can be doing in Standard on turn 2. He just needs some support.
Torrent Elemental – Might get a lot better as a card that can punish decks focused around devoid, then again it might be a bit of a double edged sword
since Eldrazi Processors can actually put exiled cards back in the graveyard which can actually punish Torrent Elemental a little.
Anticipate – Is a card I’m really looking forward to trying a bit more if the format slows down a little. It’s great in small numbers, but can slow you
down too much in a fast format.
We aren’t actually losing too much here, which shows how weak blue has been in general lately. Dissolve is a card that would’ve likely been a big deal in
the new format, so I’ll be looking to see what new counters might replace it.
Rally the Ancestors – Most of the cards for the Rally the Ancestors deck stick around, with Satyr Wayfinder and Mogis’s Marauder being pieces that will be
missed. The deck is powerful, but not against a field of Hangarback Walkers and Anafenza, the Foremost.
Wingmate Roc – Fliers and ways to go over the top of Siege Rhino and Hangarback Walker could be excellent. It also goes well with both.
Mastery of the Unseen – If colorless matters with devoid, then Mastery of the Unseen will be an excellent way to up the amount of colorless creatures you
Secure the Wastes – I think this card has a lot things going for it and could see a lot more play. Scaling up to be a late game finisher while still being
reasonable in the earlygame is powerful.
Orator of Ojutai – Perhaps it would’ve happened by now if it was viable, but I’m still waiting for the Dragon deck that runs four of these.
Monastery Mentor – Is a ridiculously powered card that’s only missing the right enablers to explode into broken territory. Tokens might be a very real
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is easily one of the biggest losses to Standard, as it was a format defining card. You can also say goodbye to Ajani Steadfast’s
broken interaction with Dragonlord Ojutai and all the heroic creatures.
I don’t claim to be an expert on tiny red creatures that like to scorch faces off, but it looks like there will be a decent crop left over.
Abbot of Keral Keep and Lightning Berserker have essentially always over-performed and have incredible impacts on games for their costs.
Exquisite Firecraft will be the premium burn spell for finishing people off, and Roast will surely continue to see play in nearly every sideboard that can
Outpost Siege is a great option for Mono-Red Aggro to catch people offguard after sideboard and will probably only increase in popularity since the number
of purely aggressive options will be a little more limited.
Truth be told, I’m not sure exactly where any of these cards fit, usually good Mono-Red Aggro cards are fairly easy to evaluate, but there are almost
certainly a few hidden gems that don’t see much play right now.
Jeez, that’s a lot of great cards rotating. Nevermind what I said earlier… RIP Red Aggro decks. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. If there’s one
thing you can count on, it’s going to be more good burn spells and efficient red beaters. Considering Mono-Red won the last two Pro Tours, and the
Vancouver Mulligan rules benefit Aggro decks a little more than Midrange or Control, I’d be happy if they didn’t make the deck ridiculously overpowered.
Ultimate Price – Will likely drop in value thanks to a bunch of devoid creatures entering the format, but it will stick around as a solid option.
Foul-Tongue Invocation – Might suffer the same fate. Hangarback Walker makes fools of us all. Eldrazi Scions will also complicate things a little.
Merciless Executioner and Fleshbag Marauder and Grim Haruspex and Nantuko Husk – Might as well group the entire Rally the Ancestors crew together. I don’t
think Fleshbag Marauder’s effect is very good in the metagame at the moment and probably won’t improve much. I imagine if Rally the Ancestors wants to
thrive, it will need to adapt or find the right metagame to attack.
Languish and Crux of Fate – Will remain as good board wipes that fall just short of being excellent.
Tasigur, the Golden Fang – I have a feeling he might just be the breakout card in the new format with fetchlands going to a staple in every single deck.
Demonic Pact – Is slow but just needs the right enabler to completely dominate. It probably can’t survive much hate, or possibly even an opponent that
expects it coming, but if someone breaks the card, I imagine it will be glorious for the first time.
Liliana, Heretical Healer – Is an incredibly underrated card that packs a lot of value. I’m excited to try her with Eldrazi Scions.
Sidisi, Undead Vizier – Eldrazi Scions could also work nicely here.
Despise – With no Thoughtseize available and a potential increase in the number of planeswalkers seeing play, Despise might get a little love from
Gilt-Leaf Winnower – Standard has been a bit too symmetrical in the past, but it’s a nice answer to Siege Rhino or any mismatched creature really.
Goodbye, Hero’s Downfall. Hello, Ruinous Path. At least Thoughtseize is gone for good.
Den Protector – Might increase in stock thanks to the absence of Courser of Kruphix. It’s also one of the best “colorless” options we have, so it can fit
in devoid decks.
Rattleclaw Mystic – Speaking of colorless options… Rattleclaw Mystic is also the best option we have for ramping at the moment.
Collected Company – Might get pushed to its limit in the coming months. Get ready for greedy manabases.
Whisperer of the Wilds – A reasonable option if you need lots of mana.
Frontier Siege – A reasonable option if you need lots and lots and lots of mana. Could go well with Awaken as a way to use all that mana.
Evolutionary Leap – Works well with Eldrazi Scions and possibly even Allies in a pinch.
Green appears to take the biggest hit, losing the most and not keeping as many all-stars. It’s going to take some work to keep it as the top color in
What more is there to say than: devoid deck! Let’s see if we can’t get Hangarback Walker into every single deck out there.
Now we wait.
Is Battle for Zendikar out yet? Not yet? Okay.
Well, I hope you’re as excited to try out the new cards as I am and that you got a few ideas for cards from the old sets you might want to pair with them.
Only time will tell what strategies prevail. I think Battle for Zendikar has the potential to really shake things up and give us a completely new
flavor of Standard we’ve never tasted before.
Which card’s full potential do you think will be unlocked and have a shot to break Standard when the Battle for Zendikar begins?