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Decks, Rotation, and Ixalan Standard

The early start of Ixalan preview season provides a good reminder that rotation is right around the corner—less than a month from today. Typically, rotation means Standard sees a pretty massive shakeup as it drops from eight sets all the way down to five. This means that, in an instant, decks go from being at the top of the Standard metagame to completely unplayable, and as a player who wants to keep playing Standard after the release of Ixalan, this can be devastating if your deck is one of the decks that disappears from the format. 

In the past, we've talked about preparing for rotation from a financial perspective and discussed which cards you should sell to have money to build or tune your decks for the upcoming rotation, but today we're going to take a bit of a different approach and talk about the decks themselves. While there will likely be new decks—perhaps featuring Pirates, Dinosaurs, Merfolk, and Vampires—that come to be thanks to Ixalan, what will happen to all of the old decks that are currently at the top of the Standard metagame? If you're a Zombies, Energy, or Vehicles player, should you be looking for a new deck for Ixalan Standard, or can you just make a handful of updates and keep playing?

So today, we're going to look over the most popular decks in Standard and talk about what cards they lose at rotation, if they have a chance of surviving rotation, and what replacements we have available to fill in the gaps. Of course, all of this comes with the disclaimer that we don't really know what Ixalan Standard will look like, since we've only seen a small percentage of the set, so rather than focusing on whether a deck will be good in the Ixalan Standard metagame, we'll keep a narrower focus on whether the deck can actually survive rotation. This is important because it's certainly possible that a deck can survive rotation but drop down (or move up) a tier or two in the metagame thanks to rotation based on the new cards and decks that come from Ixalan. Also, we'll focus on main-deck cards rather than sideboards, since sideboard choices will almost certainly change in the new format anyways and the loss of a sideboard card is unlikely to be the deciding factor in whether a deck manages to survive rotation. Anyway, let's jump right into it and start by discussing the 11 most played decks in our current Standard format.

Top 11 Decks

Losses: Lumbering Falls (occasionally Tireless Tracker)

Temur Energy (which includes the four-color builds splashing for The Scarab God) is one of the most rotation-proof decks in the history of Standard, losing just a single land. While having a Lumbering Falls is nice, losing the one-of will have essentially no impact on the playability of the deck. The downside of Temur Energy is that it isn't likely to get much better thanks to new Ixalan cards—this is the cost of being built around an incredibly parasitic mechanic like energy. While it could pick up a random removal spell or maybe something manages to beat out Chandra, Torch of Defiance or Glorybringer as finishers (although this seems pretty unlikely), the most probable outcome is that Temur Energy in Ixalan Standard looks almost exactly the same as Temur Energy today. 

Not only should Temur Energy be good after rotation, it's the odds-on favorite to be the best deck in the format right out of the gate. Nearly all of its competitors lose a least a little something at rotation, while Temur Energy remains almost wholly intact. If anything, my fear is that Temur Energy might be too good in Ixalan Standard, at least over the short term, while people are building and tuning decks with the new cards. In sum, Temur Energy is already the best deck in a much larger and more powerful Standard format, and it loses nothing at rotation, while Standard as a whole loses nearly half of its cards. This means that Temur Energy should not just be good but great in Ixalan Standard.

Rotation Rating: 10/10

Losses: Falkenrath Gorger, Incendiary Flow (occasionally Village Messenger and Collective Defiance)

Heading into rotation, Ramunap Red is Temur Energy's biggest competitor, and while the mono-red deck doesn't escape rotation completely unscathed, its losses are minimal. The two biggest losses are Falkenrath Gorger and Incendiary Flow, with some builds losing Village Messenger and Collective Defiance as well. The good news is that the loss of Falkenrath Gorger isn't as big as you might think. While Ramunap Red does want a critical mass of one-drops to support its aggressive game plan, it already has a ready-built replacement in Soul-Scar Mage, assuming that nothing better comes along in Ixalan. As such, losing the reach and removal of Incendiary Flow is a bit more painful. While the deck can survive without it, either by playing a lesser removal spell like Magma Spray or by playing more creatures, the best-case scenario for the deck is that Wizards gives us a Lightning Strike in Ixalan. If this happens, Ramunap Red could actually come out of rotation even stronger, which would probably be a good thing because we are going to need something to compete with Temur Energy. 

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The other reason that Ramunap Red might actually improve at rotation is that other decks are losing Grasp of Darkness, which is by far the cheapest, cleanest answer to Hazoret the Fervent. Hazoret the Fervent has already proven to be an extremely powerful finisher, even with Grasp of Darkness running around, and it might be even harder to deal with in Ixalan Standard. We've already seen Walk the Plank as a promo, which suggest Wizards might consider it to be the premier removal spell from the set, and while it does kill a lot of things, it doesn't deal with indestructible creatures. While Vraska's Contempt does get the job done, it costs four mana, which is about a million more than two when the opponent is playing Ramunap Red. Of course, there still could be something in the rest of the Ixalan previews that efficiently deals with Hazoret the Fervent, which would probably be a good thing for Standard in general. All in all, Ramunap Red should—at worst—be close to the same power level after rotation, and with a bit of luck (either a Lightning Strike being printed or the lack of a cheap Hazoret the Fervent answer being printed), it could end up even better than it is right now.

Rotation Rating: 8/10

Losses: Cryptbreaker, Relentless Dead, Diregraf Colossus, Dark Salvation, Grasp of Darkness

Zombies is in a weird place as far as rotation in concerned, with about half of the deck rotating. Even more problematically, Zombies lose several of its most powerful tribe members in Cryptbreaker and Diregraf Colossus, along with strong removal in Dark Salvation and Grasp of Darkness. Furthermore, Zombies doesn't appear to be a supported tribe in Ixalan, which means—apart from cards like Walk the Plank to help the removal situation—the deck is unlikely to see significant reinforcements. The good news is that all the lords—Metallic Mimic, Lord of the Accursed, and Liliana's Mastery—stick around, which means there's at least some hope that Zombies can be rebuilt from the ground up. As such, the question for Zombies is: are there enough Zombies from Amonkhet block to keep the deck competitive after rotation?

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With the loss of Cryptbreaker and Relentless Dead, the biggest thing that Zombies loses is the ability to go long. One of the thing that makes the current build of Zombies so scary is that it can win games as a tribal aggro deck but can also outgrind midrange and control, thanks to an insane amount of card advantage and recursion. With the long-game cards leaving, if Zombies does survive in Ixalan Standard, it will likely be as a more traditional tribal aggro deck. Ammit Eternal and Plague Belcher give the tribe two extremely above-the-curve three-drops that happen to work well with the lord plan, which is something to work with, at least. The bigger issue is filling out the bottom of the curve. While Metallic Mimic will almost certainly return (it's been cut from many of the most recent Zombie builds), the next best one- and two-drops include jank like Wretched Camel and Festering Mummy, which aren't exactly constructed all-stars. 

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With this in mind, it seems like Zombies will likely need to move into another color to be able to survive—most likely white, which offers some really solid options on the low end of the curve, including Wayward Servant, Binding Mummy (which may be an all-star if our game plan is to play a bunch of lords and huge three-drops rather than grinding out long games with Cryptbreaker, Relentless Dead, and Diregraf Colossus), and even Fan Bearer, if we are really desperate. White also gives us some sleepers like Time to Reflect (which is still likely horrible but slightly less horrible in a world without Dark Salvation and Grasp of Darkness) and In Oketra's Name, as a very efficient way to push through damage. Here's a potential starting point for what WB Zombies could look like in Ixalan Standard.

All in all, Zombies as we currently know it is almost certainly dead at rotation. At the same time, the WB build of Zombies doesn't look bad and could potentially keep the tribe alive over the next year. Can Ixalan Zombies stick in the top tier of the format? Perhaps not, but being a powerful and playable lower-tier deck certainly seems within the realm of possibility.

Rotation Rating: 4/10

Losses: Blessed Alliance, Prairie Stream, Blighted Cataract

UW Approach Control doesn't lose much of anything at rotation, especially considering that Glacial Fortress is basically an upgraded version of Prairie Stream in a two-color control deck. While having the one-of Blighted Cataract is nice, losing it shouldn't have a significant impact on the deck, which means the only real rotational loss is Blessed Alliance. While the do-it-all removal / lifegain spell is pretty important to staying alive in the early game against a deck like Ramunap Red, it seems unlikely that losing a random utility spell will kill the deck, especially considering we still have all of the commons and uncommons from Ixalan from which to find a replacement. The biggest question for UW Approach is how it will fit into the Ixalan meta, but this is a question we can't really answer yet. This being said, the deck has been doing well in a field flooded with Temur Energy and Ramunap Red, and both of those decks seem very likely to survive rotation, which means there should be a decent shot that UW Approach sticks around as well. 

Rotation Rating: 7/10

Losses: Grasp of Darkness, Choked Estuary, Sunken Hollow

UB Control is essentially in the same exact place as UW Approach. It loses some dual lands but has a ready replacement in Drowned Catacomb, which is better than Choked Estuary or Sunken Hollow anyway, along with its premier early-game removal spell Grasp of Darkness. As we talked about during our discussion of Ramunap Red, the big question is how a deck like UB Control deals with cards like Hazoret the Fervent without Grasp of Darkness in the format. While Vraska's Contempt can be a solid addition, it's much better against midrange or even some control decks than it is against aggro thanks to its high converted mana cost, Walk the Plank simply can't do what Grasp of Darkness does against hasty threats like Hazoret the Fervent and Glorybringer. While it seems likely that UB Control will survive—it has great finishers and a lot of powerful spells—the one thing that could guarantee its future in Ixalan Standard would be the printing of a card similar to Grasp of Darkness. If we get a Grasp of Darkness in Ixalan, UB Control will actually survive rotation even better than UW Approach; if not, the deck could be in a bit of trouble. 

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As the rest of Ixalan spoilers come out over the next couple of weeks, one of the big things to watch for is which control decks get a replacement for their two-mana removal spell. If UW Approach gets a Blessed Alliance replacement and UB Control gets a Grasp of Darkness replacement control in Ixalan, Standard will probably look about the same as it does today, with multiple color combinations fighting it out just below the top tier of the format. On the other hand, if only one color combination gets a replacement, that combination will likely solidify its spot as the top control deck in the format, as the other struggles to keep up without its cheap instant-speed answer. 

Rotation Rating: 7/10 

Losses: Wandering Fumarole

Since we're talking control, we might as well get UR Control out of the way as well. While none of the popular control decks in our current Standard format lose much at rotation, UR Control loses even less than most, with the creature land Wandering Fumarole being the only card that doesn't survive rotation. This being said, losing the creature land is painful, not just because it works as a solid backup finisher, but since the dual land cycle is Ixalan is ally colored, we don't have a good replacement in the format, which will make the mana of UR Control quite a bit worse moving forward. The good news is that, unlike UW and UB, UR Control still gets to keep all of its great removal in Abrade and Harnessed Lightning, which means there's less risk with UR than with the other colors. While we know that UR Control will be a bit weaker thanks to the loss of Wandering Fumarole, there's a risk that UW and UB will take a significant hit if replacements for Blessed Alliance and Grasp of Darkness don't show up in Ixalan.

Rotation Rating: 8/10

Losses: Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, World Breaker, Kozilek's Return, Weirding Wood, Shrine of the Forsaken Gods, Sanctum of Ugin (occasionally Chandra, Flamecaller

GR Ramp is weird. It keeps close to 100% of its support cards, which means the ability to ramp into something huge early in the game will still be a part of Ixalan Standard, but it loses close to 100% of its finishers. While overall it will be nice to finally have Eldrazi out of the format (it feels like we've been dealing with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger forever), if there's one thing we've learned since the release of Rise of the Eldrazi, it's that no other finishers in the entire history of Magic can match up to the Eldrazi titans. 

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On the other hand, the good news for GR Ramp is that we know Ixalan is overflowing with huge, powerful Dinosaurs. While it seems exceedingly unlikely that any of these cards will come close to the game-ending power of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, a card like Gishath, Sun's Avatar still has the power to end a lot of games by dumping a bunch of Carnage Tyrants or Verdant Sun's Avatars onto the battlefield for free. The question is whether the payoff is worth the effort of filling your deck with ramp spells. The answer is typically yes when you're building toward an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger; even if your opponent manages to deal with your indestructible, library-eating finisher, at least you exiled away your opponent's two best permanents and likely tutored up another copy with Sanctum of Ugin. Even just World Breaker eating the opponent's lands can close out a lot of games. 

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So far, none of the Dinosaurs we've seen match the Eldrazi's power in terms of immediate impact. One of the things that makes Eldrazi so good is they trigger when cast, so even if your opponent manages to counter them, you're still getting value. With a card like Gishath, Sun's Avatar, not only do you have to resolve your Dinosaur, but it also needs to attack and deal combat damage to your opponent, while Carnage Tyrant and Verdant Sun's Avatar really need to untap to have a significant impact on the game (although the lifegain from Verdant Sun's Avatar is helpful in stabilizing). 

This being said, we've only seen about half of the rares and mythics from Ixalan, which means it's possible that some insanely broken, expensive Dinosaur is revealed over the next couple of weeks. If we somehow get a Dinosaur that's close to Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or even just World Breaker in power, GR Ramp could very well adapt and survive in a Dinosaur shell—all the ramp spells are still there to make it happen. All things considered, at this point, I'm skeptical that GR Ramp will survive. Losing the Eldrazi seems like too much to overcome, but I'm also holding out hope that the right card comes along to make Dino-Ramp a real deck. At this point, all we can do is wait and see what the rest of Ixalan holds.

Rotation Rating: 2/10

Losses: Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Thraben Inspector, Archangel Avacyn, Needle Spires, Shambling Vent

This will probably probably sound absurd considering we've been talking about Eldrazi titans, creature lands, and planeswalkers, but the lowly common Thraben Inspector might be the most impactful card leaving Standard at rotation. The one-drop has proven to be a key piece in just about any white deck that can cast it, and it's exceedingly unlikely that we get a replacement in Ixalan (since white one-drops that draw a card aren't really a thing). The loss of Thraben Inspector is specifically huge for Mardu Vehicles. Apart from being a solid one-drop in general, making a Clue is key to turning on Toolcraft Exemplar on Turn 2 for aggressive starts and Unlicensed Disintegration to finish the game with direct damage, while the body is important for crewing various Vehicles. Losing Thraben Inspector in and of itself might be enough to knock Mardu Vehicles down a tier in the format. And Thraben Inspector isn't all that Mardu Vehicles loses. 

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Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has been the best planeswalker in Standard for the past two years, and while Gideon of the Trials offers a replacement, it isn't anywhere near the same power level in an aggressive deck like Mardu Vehicles, which takes full advantage of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar's anthem ultimate and the 2/2 tokens it makes. Part of the power of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in Mardu Vehicles is that the tokens offer a quick and easy way to crew up Vehicles to either get in hasty damage or offer even more defense for Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Finally, losing Archangel Avacyn hurts the deck against control, making wraths a bit more expensive while also taking away another great finisher. 

While I wouldn't say that Mardu Vehicles is dead, the combination of losing its two best cards and the fact that Ixalan doesn't seem very focused on artifact synergies means that the former best deck is Standard will likely be quite a bit worse in Ixalan Standard. While Heart of Kiran, Aethersphere Harvester, Toolcraft Exemplar, and Scrapheap Scrounger mean there are still some strong pieces for a Vehicle aggro deck, substituting Inventor's Apprentice for Thraben Inspector and Depala, Pilot Exemplar for Gideon, Ally of Zendikar means the deck is due for a big step back. This being said, the deck does have a bit of hope, since we know there will be more Vehicles in Ixalan. While it seems unlikely that Wizards will push the card type nearly as hard as it did in Kaladesh based on Smuggler's Copter's banning and the strength of Heart of Kiran, if a broken vehicle somehow slips through, it could improve the archetype's fortunes. 

Rotation Ranking: 5/10

Losses: Thraben Inspector (for UW Gift) or Insolent Neonate (for Jeskai Gift)

There are basically two versions of God-Pharaoh's Gift decks that are competing with each other for the title of best Gift deck in Standard: Jeskai Gift and UW Gift. Unfortunately, rotation doesn't do much to help solve the debate, as both decks lose their key one-drop: Thraben Inspector in UW and Insolent Neonate in Jeskai. While both of these cards are very good in their respective builds, neither is essential, which means God-Pharaoh's Gift decks should be just fine, based solely on the cards leaving Standard. However, there is one card from Ixalan that could be problematic for God-Pharaoh's Gift decks in general:

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While the new and improved Pithing Needle Sorcerous Spyglass doesn't actually stop God-Pharaoh's Gift itself, it does stop Gate to the Afterlife, which is the primary way for Gift decks to cheat their namesake artifact onto the battlefield early in the game. Playing God-Pharaoh's Gift fairly (i.e., casting it for seven mana) probably isn't good enough, which means Sorcerous Spyglass makes the strategy a lot riskier moving forward. The end result will likely be that God-Pharaoh's Gift decks lean more heavily on Refurbish as a way to cheat their God-Pharaoh's Gift into play. This would seem to favor UW Gifts over Jeskai, since Jeskai doesn't usually play Refurbish, although it would be easy enough for the splash-red build to play the sorcery, since it's already in white. Abrade is already very strong against Gifts decks and isn't going anywhere, so while neither of the builds loses a significant number of cards at rotation, the question will be whether the combination of Abrade, Sorcerous Spyglass, and even more graveyard hate (like Deadeye Tracker) will be too much for the archetype to handle. While it will probably still be around, it seems likely that Gifts will be a little bit worse after rotation thanks to the increasing amount of good hate.

Rotation Ranking: 6/10

Losses: Game Trail.

GR Pummeler is actually very similar to Temur Energy, basically being a more aggressive and focused version of the energy family. It's basically a Kaladesh-block deck, which means it loses nothing at rotation (with Game Trail being replaced by Rootbound Crag). For a couple of reasons, it seems that GR Pummeler might actually be a winner at rotation and move up a tier or two in the format. Apart from the fact that it doesn't lose anything itself, aggro decks tend to perform well right after rotation as people are trying to figure out the right mixture of answers in more controlling builds, not to mention the fact that Grasp of Darkness and especially Blessed Alliance (one of the best answers opponents have to going all-in on Electrostatic Pummeler and pump spells) are both rotating out. While it's unlikely that GR Pummeler will gain much from Ixalan, with its best hope being a new pump spell or a removal spell, the fact that a lot of decks ahead of it are getting worse while GR Pummeler remains unchanged might just be enough to push the deck toward the top of the Ixalan Standard format.

Rotation Rating: 10/10

Losses: Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, Grasp of Darkness, Hissing Quagmire.

First off, the more delirium-focused build of green-black is dead at rotation, with all-stars like Traverse the Ulvenwald, Tireless Tracker, and Ishkanah, Grafwidow leaving the format, which means the Winding Constrictor energy build will by the only game in town. All in all, the deck doesn't lose a ton, but it does lose more than Temur Energy, which is especially troubling, considering that green-black energy has been falling behind in recent weeks anyway. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is certainly powerful in the deck but not irreplaceable, and while [[Grasp of Darkness] is a big loss, it's a big loss for all black decks, so GB Constrictor isn't alone that that regard. On the other hand, the rotation of Hissing Quagmire is actually a big downgrade for the deck.

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One of the biggest impacts of rotation is that we're losing a very strong cycle of enemy-colored dual lands (the creature lands) without getting any replacement, which means your mana takes a major step backwards if you are playing GR, UR, WB, UG, or WR, since you're stuck playing Foul Orchard and friends. While a deck like GB Constrictor can survive the rotation of its creature land thanks to help from Aether Hub (although going from Hissing Quagmire to Foul Orchard is still a huge downgrade), this is even more problematic for non-energy enemy-colored decks. This isn't to say that Golgari, Izzet, Orzhov, Simic, and Boros will be unplayable in Ixalan Standard, but that fact that ally-colored decks will have two good cycles of dual lands (in the cycling lands from Amonkhet and buddy lands from Ixalan) and enemy-colored decks will only have one (the Kaladesh fast lands) is a reason to play ally colors if everything else is equal, at least until the winter set comes out and (likely) evens out the dual-land situation in Standard). This is another reason why Temur Energy (which gets two fast lands) and GR Pummeler (which is ally colored) will likely continue to outpace GB Constrictor as the best energy decks for Ixalan Standard.

Rotation Rating: 6/10

Other Decks

The decks above cover every Standard deck that makes up at least 1.5% of our current meta, but there are a ton of other fringe decks floating around as well. How will the lower-tier decks cope with rotation? Let's quickly break it down.

Ixalan Standard Tiers

This is probably a bit silly, since Ixalan itself will (hopefully) add some sweet new decks to Standard, but let's wrap up today by looking at where Standard stands post-rotation as far as the current decks in the format. 

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Tier 0: Temur / Four-Color Energy. It's hard to argue against Temur Energy being the best deck in Ixalan Standard on week one. It's already the best deck in the format and loses essentially nothing to rotation, while many of its main competitors get at least a little bit weaker.

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Tier 1: Ramunap Red, UR / Grixis Control, GR Pummeler. Ramunap Red doesn't lose much, and the pieces it does lose are fairly easy to replace, which means it should continue to be the main competitor to Temur Energy's throne atop Standard. UR / Grixis Control gets the nod as best control deck simply because it's dealing with less uncertainty than UW and UB, both of which need to replace a key removal spell, while UR only needs to replace a land. Meanwhile, GR Pummeler gets the biggest bump up the standings, since it loses nothing and could benefit from the aggro bias that's often present early in new formats.

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Tier 2: UW Control, UB Control, God-Pharaoh's Gift, GB Energy. UW and UB Control could challenge UR / Grixis as the best control deck in Ixalan Standard, depending on what removal spells they get in Ixalan. God-Pharaoh's Gift decks don't lose much but will have to deal with more hate thanks to Sorcerous Spyglass, which keeps them down in the second tier of Standard. Meanwhile, GB Energy has to deal with bad mana but retains its powerful +1/+1 counter synergies. 

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Tier 3: Mardu Vehicles, Zombies, GR Ramp: I might be underrating Mardu Vehicles a bit here, and the deck could very well be deserving to be in tier two, but people will be surprised just how much losing Thraben Inspector hurts the deck. Combine this with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar's rotation, and for now, I'd rather miss low on Mardu Vehicles than miss high. Zombies takes a huge tumble from tier one to tier three thanks to the loss of many of its best creatures, along with the fact that the hypothetical WB Zombie build is very untested. Meanwhile, GR Ramp might deserve to be in a tier all by itself, since it's very possible the deck is dead, but we'll leave it here until we see if we get an Eldrazi-level Dinosaur in Ixalan.


Anyway, that's all for today. What decks are you most excited to play after rotation? Can Zombies survive? Am I underrating Mardu Vehicles' potential without Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Thraben Inspector? Which control deck is best? Can anything unseat Temur Energy as the best deck in Standard? Which new Ixalan decks can creep into the top tiers of the format? Merfolk? Dinosaurs? Vampires? Pirates? Let's me know in the comments, and as always, you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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