It's still only August but that's no reason not to start thinking about the new Standard format in October. Many players have already begun to sell off their Sphinx's Revelations and Pack Rats in anticipation of the Khans of Tarkir Prerelease happening in September. I for one am unable to attend any of the United States World Magic Cup Qualifiers, so I am not going to be playing much Standard at all until Khans is released. Today I'm going to discuss which decks I think are going to survive the rotation and which ones will need some serious help going forward.
The first major component of Standard that is rotating out is shocklands. The shocks enabled us to play more than two colors, and more importantly, play an aggressive deck with a splash, such as Boros Burn and various devotion strategies. It's pretty hard to play decks like that when all of the lands come into play tapped. The enemy colored pain lands reprinted in M15 help out with that a bit, but without the full ten painlands we are really limited with what types of aggro decks we play. Mana Confluence is also a good mana fixer, but it's not the kind of card you really want to play four of unless you are a super aggro deck with lots of colors. You generally will not want it in a midrange or control strategy.
No shocklands mean that the format will slow down a great deal. We already know what lands we are getting in Khans of Tarkir, and they won't speed up the format at all. In Khans we are being provided some sweet wedge-based tri-lands, similar to the tri-lands from Shards of Alara block. This means that WotC is pushing three color midrange decks such as Junk, RUG, BUG, etc. In fact, if you take a look at the results of Pro Tour Journey into Nyx (Theros Block Constructed), you will see that three color midrange decks were very successful. Take a look at the deck that finished first place at the Pro Tour.
And here's another deck that finished in the Top 8:
What do these three decks have in common? Besides being among the most successful archetypes at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, they all share something important: Mana fixing. All three of these decks play a whopping twelve scrylands, the maximum amount of on-color scrylands you can play in a three color deck. They also play four copies of both Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix. Sylvan Caryatid is the best mana fixer we have right now and is about on par with Farseek from last year's Standard. Sylvan Caryatid is a crucial card in decks where half of your lands come into play tapped. It allows the deck to speed up and play at the same pace as aggressive decks.
Courser of Kruphix is another amazing card in midrange strategies and synergizes extremely well with scrylands. You get to see the top card of your library, which usually helps your opponent more than it helps you, but when combined with scrylands, you can see a lot of your deck. If there is a useless card on top, just play a scryland and scry it away. If your top card is awesome, you can hold your scryland for something better. And of course, if your top card is a land, you can just play it for free. Having access to Courser and scrylands allow you to play one-of bullets because you have a great chance of finding them. Courser of Kruphix is also great on defense and will surely buy you plenty of time against aggressive decks like Rabble Red.
The combination of Sylvan Caryatid, Courser of Kruphix, and scrylands will be the backbone of all midrange decks (and even control decks) going forward. I can't even think of a reason to not play these cards if I'm green. Card advantage, library manipulation, and mana fixing are all very small components that give you minor advantages. The longer the game goes the more small advantages you will get which will definitely add up.
Another thing that these decks have in common is slow creatures and Planeswalkers. Elspeth was the card that defined the block format and it's definitely a card that we're going to see a lot of over the next year. Ashiok and Kiora haven't really seen much Standard play but with the format slowing down, I think that's going to change. Ashiok specifically was an amazing card in block but never really found a home in Standard. As for Kiora, I was really excited when Kiora was released but have been overall unimpressed with her. I really hope that Kiora will find a home in a top tier Standard deck going forward. Lastly, there's Xenagos. Xenagos is amazing in the current Standard format and I'm sure it will see plenty of play when the format rotates. It usually takes a few cards to deal with one Xenagos and most decks have a real challenge removing it. Like with Elspeth, the tokens it creates get out of hand very quickly.
Slow, powerful creatures defined Theros Block; Polukranos, World Eater, Polis Crusher, Prognostic Sphinx, Stormbreath Dragon, the list goes on. There is one card that does a great job at taking care of all of these creatures (well maybe not Prognostic Sphinx) and Planeswalkers, and that's Hero's Downfall. Hero's Downfall is shaping up to be the best card in the new Standard just because of how versatile it is. Of course, anything can happen in Khans of Tarkir, but if the cards are as slow as Theros Block then you can bet that Hero's Downfall will be an automatic four-of in every deck that can support it.Devotion Decks
I'd first like to point out that most devotion strategies in Standard are dead post rotation, which is funny considering devotion is a Theros mechanic. Alas, all of the cards that make the devotion decks work are in the block that focused on multicolored cards and hybrid mana symbols. Frostburn Weird, Boros Reckoner, and Nightveil Specter are huge players in devotion decks due to their mana costs and without those cards in the format, devotion decks are taking serious hits.
Take Monoblack Devotion for example. The only card in the deck that actually has the devotion mechanic is Gray Merchant of Asphodel, but it's a pretty important card that helps the deck survive to the late game. Between Thoughtseize, Underworld Connections, and slow removal spells, Monoblack relies on Gray Merchant to get back in the game. Every life gained is another card you can draw with Connections, making Gray Merchant a crucial component to the deck.
Here's a list of cards that Monoblack loses with the rotation: Underworld Connections, Pack Rat, Nightveil Specter, Desecration Demon, and Lifebane Zombie. That's a lot of devotion! With only Thoughtseize and Hero's Downfall making it through to October, it's pretty safe to say that the deck is dead unless Khans offers something with multiple black mana symbols.
Next up is Monoblue. While the deck revolves around two Theros cards, Thassa, God of the Sea and Master of Waves, it really needs those double blue creatures to make those cards what they are. Frostburn Weird and Tidebinder Mage leaving hurt the deck a lot, but I don't think Monoblue is gone for good. There are no suitable replacements for the Weird or the Mage yet, but there are plenty of cheap blue creatures that are good options for the deck. There's no doubt in my mind that Vaporkin will make the cut after RtR rotates. It's a cheap flier and is even an elemental which gets pumped by Master of Waves. Chasm Skulker is another card I really like in a blue beatdown deck. However, I think the monoblue deck will take on a new direction and focus more on quick fliers and card draw. Military Intelligence is an amazing card, and there are enough creatures with evasion right now to make it work.
This list was originally created by Tomoharu Saito and was one of my favorite new decks to come out of M15. I played it quite a bit while testing for the Pro Tour and I thought the deck was awesome. Sadly, it couldn't beat Supreme Verdict which made it completely unplayable, but with Supreme Verdict leaving the format the deck is worth looking at again.
It's a little ambitious to say that a deck with sixteen of its creatures rotating out of the format will be a contender, but the shell of Darksteel Citadel and Ensoul Artifact is too good to pass up. Combined with Ornithopter and Springleaf Drum, Khans doesn't need to offer us much to make this deck work. There are always cheap blue flyers in every block so hopefully we'll get something sweet for this deck in October.
One thing that all three of these decks have in common is Mutavault. Mutavault a crucial card in all of these decks, and it's the card that makes aggro decks not fall over and die to Supreme Verdict. I'll be really sad to see the card go, but with Supreme Verdict leaving as well, we still have a chance that the aggro decks are playable.Control Decks
Control decks are definitely getting a kick in the teeth after RtR block rotates out. We are losing all of the main components of UW Control: Supreme Verdict, Planar Cleansing, Sphinx's Revelation, Jace, Architect of Thought, Azorius Charm, and Elixir of Immortality. I won't go as far as saying that control is dead because we have no idea what we'll have access to in Khans of Tarkir, but losing a four mana board sweeper and the best mass card draw spell ever printed means that control decks just won't be the same.
Control decks need ways to clear away a board of attacking creatures, and Mass Calcify just isn't going to cut it. I think AEtherspouts is a viable option, however once you know about it, it's very easy to play around. I'd be perfectly happy attacking with only one or two creatures and forcing my opponent to use an AEtherspouts when he doesn't want to. Some other viable board sweepers are Drown in Sorrow and Anger of the Gods. Silence the Believers is not exactly a sweeper, but it can Remove two or more creatures if you have enough mana. If a Wrath of God of some kind doesn't get printed in Khans, I wouldn't be surprised if control decks migrated towards Dimir, Grixis, or BUG. Thoughtseize, Hero's Downfall, and Silence the Believers are a good start to a control deck, Jace's Ingenuity is the card draw we need, and Prognostic Sphinx is a great finisher. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver is pretty hard to deal with once he gets going and he seems great in a format surrounded by slower creatures.Monored Aggro
Monored aggro just never seems to go away. Cheap red creatures and burn is always an option in Standard and in this format it's no different. Rabble Red doesn't lose much after the rotation and it's pretty easy to fill in the missing slots. The important components of the deck remain intact: Goblin Rabblemaster, Stoke the Flames, and Lightning Strike. Firedrinker Satyr and Foundry Street Denizen are also sticking around, and Rubblebelt Maaka can easily become Titan's Strength. Rabble Red is losing most of its creature base, but there are a few good options in M15. I'm sure that there will be some red aggressive creatures in Khans, as they seem to get printed in every set.
Frenzied Goblin is a pretty good addition to the deck. It's a one-drop and has an ability that all red decks want. Frenzied Goblin would have made the cut already if Firefist Striker wasn't around. The only thing holding it back is its one power. The other creature I'd consider from M15 is Borderland Marauder. It attacks for three, which is exactly what we want from our two-drop.
There are some other options for us in Monored besides creatures. Shrapnel Blast and Darksteel Citadel were reprinted in M15, and if Khans gives us some kind of aggressive artifact creature then I can see this combo being played in the deck. You can even lower the curve and reduce the number of lands by playing Springleaf Drum, but it feels wrong to tap red creatures for mana and not attack with them. I wouldn't want to resort to playing Bronze Sable in constructed, so hopefully something better comes along.Wrapping Up
The new Standard format seems like it will be full of midrange decks. Control decks seem very weak, and Monored is still a top contender. I'm eagerly waiting for Khans of Tarkir spoilers to start so I can begin brewing some new decks. Are there any particular strategies that never really made it that you think will see play after the rotation? Let me know in the comments! As always thanks for reading and I'll see you next week.
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