When Kaladesh becomes legal, many cards will rotate out of Standard. As a result, certain other cards improve, whether because the rotating card had previously held them in check or because the new environment left by the rotating card's absence is especially fertile for the card. Either way, every rotation gives rise to sleepers and today I'm going to share some cards that I believe are about to wake up from relative obscurity and become format staples!
Battlefield Forge, Caves of Koilos, Llanowar Wastes, Shivan Reef, and Yavimaya Coast rotating will make it more difficult to play multicolor Eldrazi decks since most of the multicolor lands available in Standard do not produce colorless mana. The one notable exception is Corrupted Crossroads, a card I expect to be an automatic four-of in any Eldrazi deck once pain-lands aren't an option. The new enemy Scars-lands will be better than the pain lands in the non-Eldrazi decks that want them untapped, so multicolor aggressive decks actually improved overall while only the Eldrazi suffer.
Without pain-lands, Triskaidekaphobia improves since opponents won't have an easy way to go from 13 to 12 life. This means Tree of Perdition will likewise improve alongside it. Everyone I talked to cites pain-lands as the reason they stopped testing the deck, not inconsistency or power-level issues. So unless someone can pony up a better reason why the deck won't work, I see no reason to think it won't rise to playability. I mean, if Cat Pact can get there, I have hope for the tree and lucky number 13.
Aetherflux Reservoir feels like it's intended for casual players; getting to 50 life is a bit of a pipe dream, even with the life-gain abilities of Aetherflux Reservoir itself. However, Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim offers an intermediate goal of getting to 30 life that carries with it a significant payoff of being able to sacrifice creatures to Vindicate permanents. The deck I'm envisioning uses Aetherflux Reservoir as a life-gain engine to turn on Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim with the upside of a possible win condition if you happen to get above 50 life, which could happen against a slower deck. It's convenient that all this life gain naturally makes the deck more resilient to a hit from Emrakul, the Promised End since 13 life is not nearly as devastating when you're sitting at 35 as it is when you're at 20. It's possible that blue/red is a better fit for Aetherflux Reservoir than white/black, but Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim offers a lot.
Aside from Aetherflux Reservoir, Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim gets better with Concealed Courtyard. Shambling Vent is excellent with Ayli, Eternal Pilgirm but one of the biggest problems I ran into when trying to play Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim in Eldritch Moon Standard was that the decks needed four Caves of Koilos in order to reliably cast Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim on the second turn. The extra damage from Caves of Koilos, and other white/black desirables like Anguished Unmaking and Read the Bones, kept me well below 30 life. Concealed Courtyard is exactly what Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim needs: a pain-free untapped land that produces either of her colors, allowing you to play her on the second turn consistently. I suspect first turn Shambling Vent, second turn Concealed Courtyard into Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim will become a common opening in Standard.
Tragic Arrogance is about to rotate. Good riddance! I always felt a bitter taste in my mouth when playing around this card or around Emrakul, the Promised End — they force you to play "sub-optimally." Now there's a much more balanced card to replace: Cataclysmic Gearhulk. The entire gearhulk cycle looks sweet and I believe they will be a hit, much like the Titan cycle of old. I especially like how they interact with Eldrazi Displacer. There is still quite a bit left to be revealed from Kaladesh, but they've already shown a few Flicker effects, so I could see gearhulk slot into heavy-blink decks and become big players in Standard. Cataclysmic Gearhulk will keep decks in check that want to go super wide like Tragic Arrogance did, but it will leave you with your best creature instead of your worst one. It's much easier for opponents to deal with, but it's still a potent weapon.
Collected Company put a stranglehold on Standard. It was so powerful, especially because of Reflector Mage, that any other aggressive creature deck was pointless. The deckbuilding restriction that maximizing Collected Company requires makes all the decks essentially the same. It's gotten to the point that if you want to play Eldritch Moon Standard, these are your choices:
With Collected Company out of the picture, Standard will likely have a wider array of decks. My intuition is that Gideon, Ally of Zendikar will take over the spot of best four-mana proactive threat in the format since it matches up well against Emrakul, the Promised End and Kozilek's Return (and sweepers in general for that matter). Also without an instant speed threat of creature + Reflector Mage for my Knight Ally Token on my end step, I suspect Gideon, Ally of Zendikar's stock will rise considerably. Calling him a sleeper might be a bit of a stretch, but I suspect he will move from the B-squad to among the short list of format-defining all-stars. In other words, I expect him to fill the shoes left by Collected Company.
Collected Company into Reflector Mage dominated other aggressive creature-based strategies and Languish dominated all aggressive creature-based strategies. The fact that these cards are both rotating simultaneously means that a resurgence of innovative, aggressive creature-based decks is likely. At least that is my hope, barring an untimely three or four-mana board sweeper in Kaladesh. Dodging Kozilek's Return and Radiant Flames is manageable since they Deal Damage, so cards like Selfless Spirit and Repel the Abominable can stop them. Planar Outburst costs five mana — that's much different than four, and also gets bricked by Selfless Spirit.
Much like how Languish and Collected Company locked out all the other aggressive creature decks, Dromoka's Command basically locked all the enchantments out of Standard. With its rotation I expect cards like Stasis Snare, Always Watching, and Quarantine Field to see more play. Stasis Snare in particular looks poised for a big jump since it's the most efficient answer to Emrakul, the Promised End in the format. You will no longer have to use Oath of Nissa to protect your Stasis Snares from Dromoka's Command (which often backfired against Tragic Arrogance). With really only Anguished Unmaking to worry about, Stasis Snare feels as good as gold post-rotation.
The human tribe takes a big hit at rotation. Kytheon, Hero of Akros, Anointer of Champions, Dragon Hunter, and Knight of the White Orchid are all rotating out of Standard. This only leaves Town Gossipmonger, Thraben Inspector, and Expedition Envoy to help pump Thalia's Lieutenant. Barring new humans being printed in Kaladesh, Lone Rider might finally see play and Hanweir Militia Captain will likely move from the sideboard to the maindeck. I can also see human tribal decks upping their curve to maintain the necessary power level; cards like Thalia, Heretic Cathar and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar will see much more play in this circumstance. You might also see a second color splash become the norm. For instance, splashing for Hamlet Captain, Duskwatch Recruiter, Tireless Tracker, and Heron's Grace Champion seems likely for Thalia's Lieutenant decks. They could also stay Bant and just run Planeswalkers (Gideon and/or Tamiyo) in the hole left by Collected Company.
Even though humans still have some reasonable options, I suspect Boros Dwarves will be the new tribal white deck, built around an under-the-radar card: Depala, Pilot Exemplar looks fantastic! She has a sizeable body (3/3 for three), she anthems your whole team (assuming you are all dwarves and vehicles), and she provides card advantage by drawing you into more dwarves to fuel your vehicles. The best part is that she does all this at once! Everyone's going all commando over Chandra, Torch of Defiance, but as long as she gets sufficient support (and I don't see why she wouldn't), Depala, Pilot Exemplar looks like the strongest card in Kaladesh. It's certainly possible she is Olivia, Mobilized for War version 2.0 in that she is a shining star among a tribal poop stain, but given the hype on vehicles at PAX, my money is on her being Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero 2.0, or at the very least, dwarves being the new (and improved) kithkin.
The hype is real surrounding Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and everyone is clamoring to get their hands on the newest hotness.
Overhyped. Double red is hard to splash and the second ability won't even help cast Archangel of Tithes... pic.twitter.com/BhQGX1r9C9— Craig Wescoe (@Nacatls4Life) September 6, 2016
In all seriousness this card looks like it fits best in a ramp-style deck that can take advantage of the second ability. It feels a lot like Garruk Wildspeaker. With Garruk Wildspeaker, you typically immediately used the +1 ability to untap two lands and cast a blocker ( Tarmogoyf) or removal spell (Terror) to protect it. With Chandra, Torch of Defiance you can use the second ability to add two red mana to produce a blocker or a removal spell (most likely Harnessed Lightning, Incendiary Flow, or Oath of Chandra). Or you could just use the -3 ability and outright deal four damage to a creature. Oath of Chandra feels like it will play exceptionally well with Chandra, Torch of Defiance.
Not only does it play well with the second ability, allowing you to cast it off the two mana, but it also plays well with Chandra, Torch of Defiance's first ability. For instance, let's say you cast Oath of Chandra on your second or third turn and then jam Chandra, Torch of Defiance on the fourth turn and immediately use her first ability. You choose not to cast the card and instead deal two damage to the opponent. If they have a Planeswalker out — say, a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar on four loyalty — then you Redirect that damage from Chandra, Torch of Defiance's ability to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Then on the end step Oath of Chandra sees that a Planeswalker entered the battlefield this turn and so it triggers to deal two more damage to the opponent, which you can then Redirect to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar to finish him off. That's straight four damage to a Planeswalker the turn you cast Chandra, Torch of Defiance! Combine this option with all the options afforded by Chandra, Torch of Defiance's other abilities and you have a powerful, versatile Planeswalker. What other Planeswalker can enter the battlefield and kill basically any other creature or Planeswalker? Sorin, Grim Nemesis is the only other one that comes to mind and he costs six mana – Chandra, Torch of Defiance only costs four! I expect to see a lot more Oath of Chandra in the near future.