Today I'm analyzing the Standard format post-rotation. We only know a few things about Khans of Tarkir, so a lot of what I have to say today is speculative and depends on what is or is not in Khans. Nevertheless I think it's important to start formulating a coherent view of things now so that as more cards from the new set get revealed, we'll be able to add that knowledge to our existing framework.
It is also worth noting that I tend to be inclined toward aggressive decks, so my conception of the format may be a bit biased in that regard. Still I have a lot to say about the format, most of which will be applicable to you regardless of your play style or deck preference.Lands
The mana can tell us a lot about what is possible in a format. I expect Mana Confluence to be one of the most important cards in Standard post-rotation because it is a necessary 4x in any two-color aggressive deck after shock lands rotate out.
Battlefield ForgeCaves of KoilosLlanowar WastesShivan ReefYavimaya Coast
The next most important cards for aggro decks are the five enemy pain lands. I expect a lot of two-color aggro decks to be enemy-colored in order to take advantage of this cycle of untapped dual lands. Elvish Mystic's stock goes up without Supreme Verdict in the format, so Llanowar Wastes and Yavimaya Coast look extra good.
Temple of AbandonTemple of DeceitTemple of EnlightenmentTemple of EpiphanyTemple of MaladyTemple of MaliceTemple of MysteryTemple of PlentyTemple of SilenceTemple of Triumph
The temples are not good in super-aggressive decks, but they are decent in aggressive-ish midrangey decks. With a lot of the premier one-drops rotating or becoming less viable (e.g. Sunblade Elf without Temple Garden), we will likely see most decks relying on scry lands as their first turn play, perhaps in conjunction with a four-of Soldier of the Pantheon, Elvish Mystic, or Thoughtseize. There really aren't many other strong first turn plays post-rotation, and since Khans has a heavy multicolor theme, we might not see much help forthcoming.
If this ends up being true, then we'll likely see the format slow down considerably. This is usually the case at rotation, but it will be magnified even more because of the scry lands, relative to formats such as Scars of Mirrodin where the dual lands favored aggressive decks, or even the typical core set from the past few years with the Sunpetal Grove cycle duals that would enter untapped beyond the first turn.
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
The next most important land in the format is the devotion-fueled Nykthos engine. As the format slows down, I expect Nykthos' stock to rise. Yes, many of the strong enablers are rotating, which makes it harder to achieve higher devotion counts, but there are still enough in each color to turn on this land for considerable value.
Take Monoblue Devotion for example. It didn't want to run more than one copy of Nykthos because it was more important to hit Nightveil Specter mana on time than it was to go crazy with devotion and resolve a fourth or fifth turn overloaded Cyclonic Rift. You also had Mutavault to compete for the "early colorless land" spot. Without triple-color-intensive three-drops anymore (Boros Reckoner / Nightveil Specter), and without Mutavault in the format, I expect Nykthos to step up and be a more prominent part of the metagame instead of just a Voyaging Satyr combo in green decks.
As I take this land to be one of the most important cards in the format, I will have more to say about it when discussing each of the five colors. First I have a few more cards I want to talk about though.
I expect there to be exactly one deck that runs this card, and it will likely be Blue/Red and contain Shrapnel Blast and Ensoul Artifact in addition to Ornithopter, Phyrexian Revoker, Illusory Angel, and possibly Military Intelligence. The deck was underpowered compared to Pack Rat decks and Sphinx's Revelation decks, but it stays mostly intact while said decks get completely dismantled. Ensoul Artifact also loses some of its biggest answers. There is no Selesnya Charm or Azorius Charm, and Chained to the Rocks gets significantly less playable without Sacred Foundry.
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth will also see play, but is unlikely to spawn any new archetype. Sliver Hive and Radiant Fountain may also have a minor impact on the metagame, as may Evolving Wilds or perhaps even Unknown Shores, but the big ones will be Mana Confluence, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, the scry lands, and the enemy pain lands.Artifacts
Perilous Vault is an interesting reset button, but I'm not high on the card. It takes a lot of time and mana to set up, and it's hard to activate it and then play spells afterward in the same turn. So the opponent will usually be able to start rebuilding the board first. Hence I don't expect it to be much more than a minor role player.
Scuttling Doom EngineSoul of New Phyrexia
Scuttling Doom Engine and Soul of New Phyrexia will very likely see play. I'm guessing the Doom Engine will be the more important of the two because it's an answer to Elspeth, Sun's Champion that all colors have access to.
Hall of TriumphObelisk of Urd
Hall of Triumph and Obelisk of Urd are the two artifacts I am most interested in. Alex Sittner played a boros "all-in" soldier deck utilizing Launch the Fleet and many of the heroic soldiers in Boros. Goblin Rabblemaster still has a decent supporting cast of goblins, so that may also be a theme. The hall will be generically more effective. It's great at keeping Master of Waves tokens around even if the Master dies, and it's also great at pumping your Cat Tokens, Soldier Tokens, Goblin Tokens, or just your army of weenies. Without Supreme Verdict in the format, most sweepers look at toughness (Anger of the Gods / Drown in Sorrow), so pumping the toughness of all your creatures will also be a preemptive answer to many of the wrath effects in the format.Multicolor
Each of the 15 gods lose value with rotation, at least in the abstract, because many of their prime enablers rotate. However, with Khans of Tarkir being heavily multicolored, I can see the ten multicolor gods regaining a lot of that value back. A few of the gods in particular seem like they may take off.
Pharika, God of Affliction
Pharika has already seen play in Green Devotion and in Green/Black Constellation decks. Even though most of the constellation cards survive rotation, Back to Nature exists, so I expect constellation to be more of a subtheme than a straight linear theme in any deck. Pharika is one of the most powerful gods for its cost and depending on the multicolor enablers in Khans of Tarkir (which there should be plenty), I expect Pharika to see more play than any other god post-rotation – even more than Thassa!
I doubt Nyx Weaver will be what Pharika decks are trying to do, though Reaper of the Wilds has a very good chance of being involved. Perhaps even Garruk, Apex Predator will get to shine, given my prediction that the format will slow down considerably.
Athreos, God of Passage
Athreos is the other god whose stock I expect to rise considerably with rotation. His stats are very impressive and Underworld Coinsmith survives rotation to help enable him. This again depends on what we get in Khans, but I would give it a greater than 50% chance that the best Junk deck will involve either Athreos or Pharika.
Kruphix, God of Horizons
I don't expect Kruphix, God of Horizons to do much, but I do expect the Simic cards to play a prominent role in the BUG deck. It will likely have a green base that starts with Sylvan Caryatid and a pile of temples. Kiora, the Crashing Wave is very powerful and Prophet of Kruphix may also shine.
Xenagos, God of Revels
Xenagos, God of Revels is strong but still has to compete with Stormbreath Dragon at the five-slot in red. Xenagos, the Reveler remains one of the strongest planeswalkers though. I'm not sure whether Polis Crusher and/or Fanatic of Xenagos will be good, but my inclination is that they will be – at least the latter. Without Loxodon Smiter around, Fanatic looks like a more legitimate option from a deck-building standpoint. And without Domri Rade, Gruul decks will be looking for something else to do at three mana.
Sunblade Elf is not as good without Temple Garden, but Fleecemane Lion is still the stone cold nutterbutter, perhaps the best creature in the entire format! The mana in Green/White is really taking a hit, but even if it has to slow down a bit and include Temple of Plenty, Fleecemane Lion into Brimaz, King of Oreskos is a thing I want to do very badly in Standard! And for once, I can do so without the threat of a certain black card ruining my day. Lifebane Zombie, I hope you
rot in h... Rest in Peace! :D
There is also Ajani, Mentor of Heroes if you want to go bigger in Selesnya.White
A lot depends on what removal options exist in Khans, but as of now, not having to play around Golgari Charm or Supreme Verdict opens up a ton of space for aggressive white decks. We lose Brave the Elements, but that's a more than fair tradeoff.
Spirit Bonds is excellent at fighting through a flurry of removal spells, such as those from Black/x control decks. Without Underworld Connections in the format, black decks will have to rely on Sign in Blood and Read the Bones to Replenish their removal. Spirit Bonds trumps those cards pretty convincingly.
Soldier of the Pantheon is really the only impressive one-drop left, but fortunately his stock remains high, given that Khans is a multicolor set. So I expect a lot of the white decks to start with four of him and some scry lands to set up Fleecemane Lion into Brimaz or something along those lines – perhaps Underworld Coinsmith into Athreos, God of Passage?
White has some "build-around" cards surviving rotation. Phalanx Leader, Favored Hoplite, and Vanguard of Brimaz suggest a heroic theme, perhaps in conjunction with Launch the Fleet and/or Obelisk of Urd for soldiers. Hero of Iroas enables bestow or other auras. Heliod's Pilgrim could be a nice compliment to the hero by finding auras. Preeminent Captain loses some of his best friends, but he still has Brimaz and might gain some new buddies in Khans.
White Devotion loses its premier two-drop in Precinct Captain, but it may still work as a slower deck. Avacyn, Guardian Angel provides a lot of devotion at five mana and the deck can also run Elspeth, Sun's Champion to top the curve. And in some matchups (e.g. green) it can sideboard Mass Calcify. Spear of Heliod is excellent in the deck, as is Dictate of Heliod. You also get Ajani Steadfast if you want even more anthems.
White also has good answers: Banishing Light is the best one, but it also has Last Breath, Reprisal, and Deicide. It has Gods Willing and Ajani's Presence as protection and Nyx-Fleece Ram as a sideboard card against red decks. Hushwing Gryff may also be a big time sleeper to shut off all the devotion EBTs from Master of Waves, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Fanatic of Mogis, and Nylea's Disciple.Green
Elvish Mystic is the MVP, alongside Sylvan Caryatid. Voyaging Satyr will likely continue to shine in Green Devotion decks, untapping Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. Chord of Calling and Hornet Queen look like the big mana sinks the green decks will want to ramp into, and you also get Nissa, Worldwaker in the middle of your curve.
Courser of Kruphix loses some value without Domri Rade, but if Pro Tour Journey into Nyx is any indication, the Sylvan Caryatid + Courser of Kruphix combo will still be plenty good – especially with all the scry lands that will surely see rampant play.
Yisan, the Wanderer Bard is an interesting card that has been a little underpowered compared to Pack Rat and Sphinx's Revelation but that might prove worth the investment post-rotation, depending on what sort of things we can find from Khans.
Polukranos, World Eater is still one of the best things one can do at four mana, and his stock will only rise with the next best four-drop rotating ( Desecration Demon) and Master of Waves getting significantly weaker without its enablers. Polukranos, however, needs no help. He is a beating all on his own! Did I mention Doom Blade, Ultimate Price, Selesnya Charm AND Lifebane Zombie are rotating? The world may not have much time left before it gets eaten by a monstrous hydra!
Yisan and Chord of Calling provide the tutor engines necessary to make a card like Reclamation Sage worthy of main deck inclusion, though it will mostly see play as simply a strong sideboard option. Other strong sideboard cards, some of which will find their way into various main decks, include: Setessan Tactics, Unravel the AEther, and Mistcutter Hydra.
Genesis Hydra is another cool thing for green decks to do with their mana. I'm not sure what there will be with the graveyard but Satyr Wayfinder is still a card. Boon Satyr gets worse without Supreme Verdict in the format, but it is still a good card that will see play.Red
Red loses some key burn spells (Boros Charm especially) but it still has Lightning Strike, Stoke the Flames, Searing Blood, and Magma Jet. My guess is that the burn-heavy deck will take on a few artifacts, including Darksteel Citadel, and run Shrapnel Blast. Magma Spray also kills stuff efficiently.
Red also still has Eidolon of the Great Revel, Firedrinker Satyr, and Satyr Firedancer, which were integral to some of the burn deck's overall strategies in various matchups. Hushwing Gryff may prove to be the necessary addition for answering Master of Waves, Nylea's Disciple, and Gray Merchant of Asphodel.
If a heroic deck exists, it has Coordinated Assault and Dragon Mantle for the cheap triggers. Control decks get Anger of the Gods while non-control decks can play it as a sideboard option.
I expect Red Devotion to increase in value since you have reasonable replacements for most of the cards that are lost. Sure, you no longer have your Burning-Tree Emissary nut draws to go crazy with Nykthos, but you still have a strong curve and Prophetic Flamespeaker has been waiting patiently on the bench this whole time Boros Reckoner and Chandra's Phoenix have been in Standard. Post-Rotation he looks like the go-to guy at three mana. My prediction is that he proves to be the next Steve Young succeeding Joe Montana, or Aaron Rodger succeeding Brett Favre for those in Wisconsin.
Goblin Rabblemaster still has a few of his favorite goblin friends to try and make the Obelisk of Urd deck work, or he can go solo in a non-tribal deck. Hall of Triumph works great with him as well, as does Stoke the Flames.
Generator Servant looks neat and might be a thing. Chandra Pyromaster is a powerful sideboard card at the least, as is Fated Conflagration. Purphoros, God of the Forge might get out-competed by other four-drops, but I wouldn't be too surprised if he finds a home – maybe in a multicolor token deck?
The real draw to red I think is Stormbreath Dragon. It's one of the strongest threats to survive rotation, and my guess is that Monored Devotion and Green/Red Ramp will be the two homes for him. I would be very surprised (though also very happy) if anything in Khans makes Stormbreath Dragon obsolete.Black
Thoughtseize was already one of the best cards in the format and I see no reason to believe rotation will change that. In fact, with every card above it on the list rotating, it looks to be the #1 most powerful card in the format – even above all the lands!
Black Aggro was a deck in Theros Block Constructed, and you still have reasonably strong one-drops post-rotation: Gnarled Scarhide, Tormented Hero, and to a lesser extent Cruel Sadist. The Sadist is great at killing Master of Waves, but is fairly slow most other places.
Pain Seer, Spiteful Returned, and Mogis's Marauder provide a lot of reach for the aggro deck, as does Herald of Torment.
Master of the Feast may see more play without Desecration Demon filling the "giant flyer" spot.
Whip of Erebos will continue to give red decks a headache, especially now that Skullcrack is gone, while also providing utility against attrition decks with its reanimation ability.
Hero's Downfall may be the best removal spell in the format as it kills nearly anything, at instant speed, and at a reasonable cost. Silence the Believers can take out a god, and if you go crazy with Nykthos or with green ramp, you can kill two or three things with it. Ulcerate, Bile Blight, and Pharika's Cure are more conditional but cheaper answers to smaller threats.
Waste Not continues to intrigue me, but no good reason comes to mind.
Erebos, God of the Dead will have to do some heavier lifting without Underworld Connections around, and Liliana Vess may have to help out in the card selection department as well.
Gray Merchant of Asphodelis still there to steal games, and Doomwake Giant is still a giant punch to the weenie. And by that I mean it's so good against weenie hordes that it will take your breath away when it hits play. Anthem effects can trump it reasonably well, as long as you don't let them untap with it on the battlefield.Blue
Prognostic Sphinx was one of the best blue cards in Theros Block, and without AEtherling around anymore, the old 'Sphincter Prognosis' as they say in latin, will likely see a lot more play. Without Pack Rat around anymore, there isn't much to do with all those extra Thoughtseizes, so might as well discard them to the sphinx to keep it alive. BUG with four Sphinxes was one of the best block decks, and BUG will only be getting better in Khans since that is one of the five wedges pushed in the block.
Dissipate, Dissolve, and Negate are powerful counters that will likely play an important role in any control deck that might arise. The playability of three-mana counters, and control in general, may require a better board sweeper to come out in Khans. If it happens, these are the counters at your disposal. There is also Annul and Swan Song, though the former seems like more of a sideboard card and the latter will be more utilized in aggro decks looking to counter Drown in Sorrow and Anger of the Gods.
Battlefield Thaumaturge is among the handful of cards I would put at the top of my sleeper list. It works very well with Cone of Flame (2 mana kill your team, bro!) and several of the strive cards (most notably Harness by Force). I spent some time testing it for the last Pro Tour and it proved a bit under-powered, but it's another one of those cards that has the possibility of blowing up as the dust tries to settle post-
Chief Engineer is another card that could potentially wake up. If artifacts play a prominent role in some capacity in Khans, I can see it being a big player. This is unlikely to happen though. Ornithopter and Illusory Angel will likely exist alongside Ensoul Artifact, but that deck is probably blue/red and likely does not contain Chief Engineer. I've been very wrong about these kinds of things before though, so take that for what it's worth.
Thassa, God of the Sea gets substantially worse without Nightveil Specter, Cloudfin Raptor, Judge's Familiar, and most importantly: Frostburn Weird and Tidebinder Mage. I can't imagine Mindreaver is good enough, but that's literally the only double-blue two-drop left. There is still Master of Waves and Bident of Thassa, so I wouldn't quite count Thassa out just yet.
Control decks still have Divination, but that is a far cry from Sphinx's Revelation. Jace's Ingenuity is getting closer, but still the payoff is not quite high enough, although I like the synergy between Jace's Ingenuity and AEtherspouts. Attack me? Sure, Griptide everything! No attack? Deal, I'll draw 3 instead!
Speaking of bounce, if everyone plays a Caryatid-Courser deck, Whelming Wave is a thing.
We lose two-thirds of our Jace's, but Jace, the Living Guildpact remains. I'm still not sure what capacity he will be used in, but he's a strong card and I'd be surprised if it fails to find a home.
Maybe Soul of Ravnica is the replacement for Sphinx's Revelation? Possibly. It's clearly worse, but so is every big card draw spell ever printed, and depending on how the format shakes up, Soul may prove good enough to make control viable. Only time will tell, and I'm probably not the person to say definitively one way or the way.Conclusions
I expect the format to slow down considerably, not only because we lose a big chunk of the card pool but also because most of the dual lands in the format enter the battlefield tapped. Scry lands will make games more consistent, though slower. Faster decks relying on Mana Confluence and enemy pain lands will likely be in the best position to capitalize on this since the slower decks won't be able to punish them for the damage they are taking from their lands, yet these aggro decks will be able to punish the slower decks whose lands are all entering tapped.
Mono-color decks will still be a thing, though they will likely be slower and rely on Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to go over the top of multicolor decks, instead of trying to go underneath as the Mutavault-powered aggro decks did pre-rotation. This again points toward enemy two-colored aggro decks being especially well-positioned.
Supreme Verdict is rotating, as is Golgari Charm, leaving only Drown in Sorrow and Anger of the Gods to punish aggro swarm decks. If you go a little bigger (e.g. Brimaz) or play a Thwart (e.g. Swan Song) you can maintain pressure without getting punished. If Khans doesn't have a strong wrath effect, you better believe I'll be playing an aggro deck!
Not everything is Rainbow Vales and Pearled Unicorns for the aggro decks though. There is a significant lack of quality one-drops in the format, outside of black. I'm assuming Khans will have something to Remedy this problem, given that it's a big set, but as things currently stand, we need more one-drops.
While the gods all get much worse with many of their best enablers rotating, I'm hopeful that the multicolor gods, at least some of them, will see increased play, given the multicolor enemy wedge theme in Khans. This of course is pure speculation, but it makes sense and is a thing to keep at the forefront of your radar.
Overall I'm excited about rotation and looking forward to how Khans of Tarkir completes the picture for Standard. Will it have a format-defining wrath? Will it have good one-drops? Which of the multicolor gods will it enable the best?
We still have to deal with Stormbreath Dragon for another year, but at least none of us have to deal with Sphinx's Revelation, Supreme Verdict, or Pack Rat anymore. And best of all, Lifebane Zombie gets to be moved from my Standard box into my Modern box, unless of course it happens to get stepped on, slammed into the door frame, and accidentally lit on fire on its way there.
Craig Wescoe@Nacatls4Life on twitter