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Lost in Rotation: What Decks Survive This Fall, Part 2

Magic Origins is now out and boy did it not disappoint: between the first two SCG events and Pro Tour Magic Origins, we were treated to not just updates and innovations but brand new decks — successful ones at that! Let's jump right in and continue our review of the current Standard metagame and the fate of the top archetypes once rotation hits. If you missed Part One, you can view it here.

RG Devotion

Just fresh off an SCG Open win in Chicago a couple of weekends ago, RG Devotion placed in the Top 4 of Pro Tour Magic Origins. In the past few weeks, the deck can be found three times in the Top 4 with another copy in the Top 16 of SCG Chicago. At Pro Tour Magic Origins, there were eight players with 7 wins and seven more with 6 wins. Better enjoy the ride now though, as this archetype is bound to take a major hit at rotation: out of the 31 creatures in the main board, 19 will be gone and tough to replace including: Elvish Mystic, Sylvan Caryatid, Courser of Kruphix, Polukranos, World Eater, and Genesis Hydra. Looking at the sideboard, it is another 8 creatures out of 12 that will not be available anymore come Battle for Zendikar. With the whole strategy of the deck relying on mana dorks and Devotion to Green, losing both aspects at the same time is a tough pill to swallow: even if Leaf Gilder could somehow fill Caryatid’s void, there is nothing to take the Devotion spots of Courser, Polukranos nor the Hydra in terms of efficiency. The other two big mana sources, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Xenagos, the Reveler will be sorely missed too. If we consider only the aggro strategy and shift a bit more towards Red, Flamewake Phoenix, Zendikar Incarnate and Outland Colossus could do the job, with Nissa, Vastwood Seer taking Courser’s spot.

Alternatively, one could turn the deck in a RG Ramp archetype and use See the Unwritten in Genesis Hydra’s place, with Zendikar Incarnate providing Ferocious on curve to double the fun. Losing Elvish Mystic still makes the whole strategy one turn slower and we lose the blocking bodies of Courser and Caryatid. The current options at the top of the curve (not knowing what BFZ would bring) would be Thunderbreak Regent and Dragonlord Atarka. Atarka, World Render seems tempting if See the Unwritten is the new way to go: really, who wouldn’t like dropping two legendary dragons who can swing for 28 in addition to 5 instant damage? However, a toughness of 4 is a big red flag now that Languish is around. Still, if we are dreaming big, why not have a little Black splash and run Dragonlord Kolaghan? See the Unwritten for both Dragonlords immediately sends 14 flying damage, and Atarka’s enter the battlefield effect can even get rid of potential blockers. Oh, and let’s not forget Kolaghan’s graveyard trickery which can finish off our opponent by itself… Jund Big Monsters in Standard anyone?

Based on the list that helped Paul Jackson to a Top 4 finish at Pro Tour Magic Origins, we are left with this shell:

By the Numbers

Loss in manabase: 33.33% (16 lands left out of 24)
Loss in main deck: 61.11% (14 spells left out of 36)
Loss in sideboard: 53.33% (7 left out of 15)

Replacement possibilities: Decent

Notes: The deck could be benefit from going the more “traditional” RG aggro route with Flamewake Phoenix, Zendikar Incarnate, Thunderbreak Regent and Outland Colossus; alternative Ramp strategy for See the Unwritten and/or Jund build to be looked at

Rotation Survival grade: F (Devotion shell) // C+ (RG aggro)


Abzan Aggro

What used to be the second best flavor of Abzan this Standard season has gone MIA over the past couple of events, now representing only 0.85% of the metagame: 22nd and 52nd place at SCG Chicago, none in the Top 32 at SCG Richmond, and a no-show at PT Origins. Between Languish and the lack of new weapons in Magic Origins, the Aggro strategy in Abzan has understandably lost some of its luster, especially when compared to its Midrange counterpart. With Theros gone the deck loses its primary early beater in Fleecemane Lion and its two main control pieces, Thoughtseize and Hero’s Downfall. Rakshasa Deathdealer does a great Lion impersonation but no hexproof means monopolizing resources if it wants to regenerate. From the sideboard, just like in the Midrange case, Drown in Sorrow is the only relevant loss since the miser Nissa, Worldwaker is already being used less and less. As for the manabase, no surprises with Temple of Malady, Temple of Silence and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth on their way out.
Simply put, while the cards rotating out could be seen as not that big of a loss for the archetype, Abzan Aggro is just vanishing on its own and is already being replaced by improved versions: Abzan Megamorph and Abzan Rally starring Deathmist Raptor and Liliana, Heretical Healer. With three other proven Abzan strategies ahead of it, it is best to just let Aggro go quietly into the night.

Based on the list that finished 52nd at SCG Chicago, we are left with this shell:

By the Numbers

Loss in manabase: 35.62% (17 lands left out of 26)
Loss in main deck: 38.24% (21 spells left out of 34)
Loss in sideboard: 26.67% (11 left out of 15)

Rotation Survival grade: F (already replaced)


Mardu Dragons

This deck has been on the rise for a little while now, culminating with its 8th place finish at SCG Chicago. The overall strategy is this: hold the fort and maintain/regain life with Seeker of the Way, Soulfire Grand Master and Goblin Rabblemaster, control the board with blasts and sweepers, then land big flying monsters for the win! Simple, right? Among your weapons of choice, however, is Stormbreath Dragon, a staple in Standard showing up in RW, RG and RB archetypes; but the Big Red Theros Monster is flying away along with the rest of its block! Thankfully, there is a ready-made replacement in Khans of Tarkir with Sarkhan the Dragonspeaker and his +1: same cost, flies, has haste, but now indestructible! Losing protection from white is tough considering Abzam Charm and Utter End will still be around after rotation, but Sarkhan is immune to Languish, Ultimate Price, Murderous Cut, End Hostilities and Valorous Stance. The only other losses in the main board are Goblin Rabblemaster and Thoughtseize, both of which we covered extensively already. In the sideboard, losing Anger of the Gods hurts as it is the only board swipe in the deck. The loss is even more relevant if White Weenie and/or GB Elves become a thing post-rotation, unless Seismic Rupture turns out to be good enough, or if Battle for Zendikar brings us another Pyroclasm-like spell. The manabase is barely affected losing a playset Temple of Triumph and only 2 copies of Temple of Silence; switching to the corresponding Refuges should cover it.

Based on the list that finished 8th at SCG Chicago, we are left with this shell:

By the Numbers

Loss in manabase: 23.08% (20 lands left out of 26)
Loss in main deck: 32.35% (23 spells left out of 34)
Loss in sideboard: 46.67% (8 left out of 15)

Replacement possibilities: Very good

Notes: Sarkhan the Dragonspeaker is essentially a 1-for-1 replacement with Stormbreath Dragon. Deck still needs an alternative to Anger of the Gods in the side though.

Rotation Survival grade: B


That is pretty much it for the relevant pre-Magic Origins archetypes; three brand new brews have since joined the ranks of Top Tier decks in the format: Abzan Rally, Red Aggro and UR Ensoul Artifact.

Abzan Rally

I fell in love the minute this deck showed up in the feature match during SCG Chicago. The first iteration was Matthew Tickal’s 5-color Rally, essentially an Abzan Build splashing blue for Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and red for Kolaghan’s Command. Matthew went 8-0 on Day 1 of that event. Given another week to work on it, Ray Tautic tuned this combo deck into its current Abzan version and won SCG Richmond, going 16-1-1 in matches and an impressive 34-10-1 in games over the entire weekend! However, only Shaun McLaren, Kenji Tsumura, Timothee Simonot and Pierre Dagen managed to perform well with it during Pro Tour Magic Origins, posting 6 wins each.

The deck aims at using Rally the Ancestors on X=3 to send a gigantic Nantuko Husk into the opponent, powered by Mogis's Marauder for haste and intimidate after it fed on the likes of Elvish Mystic, Satyr Wayfinder or Deathmist Raptor, drawing cards in the process via Grim Haruspex. Outside of the combo, the list has a lot of similarities with Abzan Megamorph with Den Protector, Deathmist Raptor, Liliana, Heretical Healer and Collected Company being featured in both decks. Abzan Rally will suffer through rotation as it will lose two of its main combo tools in Satyr Wayfinder and Mogis's Marauder (and also Elvish Mystic). Typically there are many sources of graveyard interactions in G/B decks meaning that the Satyr could be replaced, but there is currently no creature that can act as a Marauder 2.0 in Abzan colors. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be able to replace it with Break Through the Line, but that would be adding a fourth color, and at this point we might as well start considering Kolaghan’s Command... So even if rotation losses are very minimal for this winning archetype, it is just enough to be Rally’s kyrptonite in its current form.

Based on the list that won SCG Chicago, we are left with this shell:

By the Numbers

Loss in manabase: 25.00% (15 lands left out of 20)
Loss in main deck: 27.50% (29 spells left out of 40)
Loss in sideboard: 33.33% (10 left out of 15)

Replacement possibilities: Poor

Notes: Mogis's Marauder is the biggest rotation loss; alternatives exist but either too slow or not in Abzan colors.

Rotation Survival grade: D


Red Aggro

Ah, the good ol’ “straight to the face” strategy. For the second Pro Tour in a row, a Mono Red Aggro strategy wins it all. This time around in a less goblin-esqe fashion now that Abbot of Keral Keep and Exquisite Firecraft entered the Standard scene. The deck also benefited greatly from Eidolon of the Great Revel's punishment in the Pro Tour Magic Origins metagame. Come rotation, the deck is losing three of its most potent weapons: the Eidolon we just mentioned, Stoke the Flames and Searing Blood. Joel's Larsson's Pro Tour-winning deck did not rely on Convoke to cast Stoke the Flames though, which is the main difference between this version and the pre-Pro Tour versions which abused Goblin Rabblemaster and Hordeling Outburst. For now, Arc Lightning could replace it come October. Yes, it is at sorcery speed, but I don't think your Abbots or Swiftspears would complain about it. Substituting for Searing Blood is more complicated: with RG Devotion and UR Artifact galore, one of its main advantage was the additional damage to the opponent when burning their Mystic or Thopter, which generated a certain card advantage considering how limited the direct damage options are in Standard. The closest card is Draconic Roar, but it would imply running (at least) Thunderbreak Regent to get an effect similar to Searing Blood. Cards like Ravaging Blaze and Fiery Impulse could be tested in that spot as well, maybe even Molten Vortex considering that extra lands are not that useful. As for Eidolon of the Great Revel, Scab-Clan Berserker is a good option turning into Eidolon Lite once Renowned. Firedrinker Satyr could make way for Goblin Glory Chaser, a more than decent 1-drop option in this Aggro/Burn build. Maybe the deck could also use some of the current token generators after rotation, which could help Collateral Damage's cause. Impact Tremors might then be able to find a spot or two, at least in the sideboard. Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh could fit too, but sort of falls into the “doesn’t do quite enough on its own” category; not that she could not be easily flipped, but even then, her Planeswalker abilities are a bit of a let down. Finally, I am still curious as to whether someone will break Pyromancer’s Goggles, because doubling uncounterable burn spells is always fun!

Based on Joel Larsson's list that won Pro Tour Magic Origins, we are left with this shell:

By the Numbers

Loss in manabase: 0% (21 lands left out of 21)
Loss in main deck: 38.46% (24 spells left out of 39)
Loss in sideboard: 60.00% (6 left out of 15)

Replacement possibilities: good

Notes: Magic Origins came out with a lot of new goodies for this archetype; a reshuffling of blast spells will be required though.

Rotation Survival grade: A


UR Ensoul Artifact

I think it is fair to say that UR Ensoul Artifact was the biggest surprise to come out of Pro Tour Magic Origins (along with the BG Demonic Pact deck, but that story is for another article ^_^ ) .  It turned Ghostfire Blade, Ensoul Artifact and Whirler Rogue into All-Stars, and pushed Hangarback Walker even more into superstardom — and that is despite a loss in the Pro Tour Finals. When Magic 2015 first came into Standard, there was a first iteration of the UR Ensoul Artifact deck featuring Chief Engineer, Generator Servant, Scutling Doom Engine, and Phyrexian Revoker. I am kind of bummed that I will only be able to enjoy this new, powerful iteration for the next two months though: Ornithopter, Phyrexian Revoker, Springleaf Drum and especially Darksteel Citadel, Ensoul Artifact and Shrapnel Blast are all on their way out. The ability to hit for 5 on Turn 2 with an Ensoul'ed Thopter or Citadel is the main appeal of this deck and it will be sorely missed. When Origins was spoiled, it was cleared that UR Artifacts was pushed as an archetype, but with Origins alone as the main source for support once rotation hits, it will be very difficult for the deck to still exist. An alternate version that includes Thopter Engineer and Pia and Kiran Nalaar might have a better chance of surviving rotation, but even then it will still lack the main early drop that made this archetype successful. Strangely enough, in Sigrist's version, the sideboard is completely immune to rotation, but does not transition well into mainboard staples.

Based on Mike Sigrist's list that finished 2nd at Pro Tour Magic Origins, we are left with this shell:

By the Numbers

Loss in manabase: 42.86% (12 lands left out of 21)
Loss in main deck: 48.72% (20 spells left out of 39)
Loss in sideboard: 0.00% (15 left out of 15)

Replacement possibilities: Poor

Notes: Unfortunately looks like a flash in the pan, unless Ensoul Artifact somehow makes its way into Battle for Zendikar.

Rotation Survival grade: C-



That's it for this week; next time will have a look at the unspoken heroes of the Standard portion of Pro Tour Magic Origins with strategies centered around Demonic Pact, Starfield of Nyx and even a Renown Deck!

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