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Preparing for Rotation: The Decks


Guilds of Ravnica will be released in just over two months. Along with adding a bunch of sweet new cards into the multiverse, the fall set release also brings with it Standard rotation, which means Kaladesh, Aether Revolt, Amonkhet, and Hour of Devastation—sets filled with some of the most powerful cards in our current Standard format—will be leaving Standard. While rotation is painful in some ways, since the deck you've been playing for the past months or even year might suddenly be unplayable, it's exciting at the same time. After more than a year, most players have likely had their fill of The Scarab God, Hazoret the Fervent, Heart of Kiran, and friends. Rotation gives us a new beginning with a smaller Standard format, potentially giving the Ixalan tribes or some sleepers from Dominaria or Core Set 2019 a chance to shine, alongside whatever fun new cards we get from Guilds of Ravnica itself. 

Of course, one of the downsides of rotation is the financial impact. A couple of weeks ago, we talked about individual cards and how they would react at rotation, but today we're going to take a more meta-perspective and discuss the decks. One of the weird aspects of rotation is that it doesn't impact all decks equally. Of the currently most played decks in Standard, some will completely cease to exist upon rotation because they are built around rotating cards, while others will be able to adapt, make some small changes, and continue to be playable in the Guilds of Ravnica Standard format. 

Figuring out how likely your deck is to survive rotation has a lot of value because if it looks like your deck might disappear, you can sell it now while it still has at least some value. On the other hand, if it looks like your deck will be sticking around for Guilds of Ravnica Standard, you can start looking ahead for cards that can replace whatever pieces your deck loses to rotation, to start preparing for the new format in a couple of months. So, our goal for today is simple: look over the most popular decks in Standard, figure out what pieces they are losing to rotation, and hopefully determine just how likely (or unlikely) they are to survive rotation and remain playable in Guilds of Ravnica Standard.

One quick note before we get to the decks: our focus will be on main-deck nonland cards. While lands and sideboards are important, they are also less likely to make a deck playable or unplayable. Wizards prints new land cycles all the time, so even though fast lands and cycling lands will be rotating with the release of Guilds of Ravnica, it's essentially guaranteed that we'll be getting a new land cycle to help ease the pain. Meanwhile, sideboards are mostly dependent on the metagame, so spending too much time discussing them is a fool's errand. Sure, Chandra's Defeat is a current sideboard staple and is rotating, but at this point, we don't even know if red aggro will be a deck we need sideboard cards for in Guilds of Ravnica Standard. If the main deck remains solid, it's likely you'll be able to find something reasonable to fill out your sideboard slots, to target whatever decks are popular post-rotation.

Most Played Decks

Key Rotating Cards: Bomat Courier, Soul-Scar Mage, Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, Scrapheap Scrounger, Pia Nalaar, Hazoret the Fervent, Glorybringer, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Unlicensed Disintergration, Abrade, Heart of Kiran, Cut // Ribbons

Key Surviving Cards: Goblin Chainwhirler, Rekindling Phoenix

Let's start with the best news of all: Mono-Red / RB Aggro, the monster of the Standard format for most of the past year, looks to be dead at rotation. Of the current build of the deck, the only cards sticking around post-rotation are Goblin Chainwhirler and Rekindling Phoenix, while all of the other cards in the deck will leave the format on October 5th. While Goblin Chainwhirler and Rekindling Phoenix are great and could form the foundation of a post-rotation red aggro list, the sheer number of losses means that at the very least, the deck will look a lot different after rotation, and it's possible that traditional red aggro won't see much play at all in Guilds of Ravnica Standard. 

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The other thing to keep in mind is that the red aggro deck for post-rotation might not be traditional red aggro. If you consider the card pool that will remain post-rotation, many of the aggro themes are tribal based, with UR Wizards, Mono-Red Goblins, and RB Pirates leading the way. Without cards like Hazoret the Fervent and Glorybringer as payoffs, it might be that in Guilds of Ravnica Standard, rather than being a generic "play the best red aggro cards" deck, we'll find out that the best red-ish aggro deck is something like Prowess Wizards with Adelix, the Cinder Wind or Goblin tribal. Regardless, red aggro as we know it will be dead at rotation, so if you are a Mono-Red / RB Aggro player, it's best to start looking ahead toward what you'll want to play after Guilds of Ravnica is released two months from now.

Key Rotating Cards: Rhonas the Indomitable, Scrapheap Scrounger, Blossoming Defense, Greenbelt Rampager, Vehicles.

Key Surviving Cards: Llanowar Elves, Thorn Lieutenant, Steel Leaf Champion, Thrashing Brontodon, Ghalta, Primal Hunger

Mono-Green Stompy is an interesting case study on the impact of rotation. If you look at the most popular builds of the deck, it actually loses about half of its cards, mostly thanks to its reliance on Vehicles and Scrapheap Scrounger to help power out fast Ghalta, Primal Hungers. This build of the deck will at the very least need to adapt at rotation, with Ghalta, Primal Hunger getting worse thanks to the loss of so many support cards. On the other hand, people are already having success with some other builds of Mono-Green Stompy, mostly built around Vine Mare, and these builds mostly survive rotation. For example, the Bogle Horse Green build only loses some copies of Rhonas the Indomitable, Blossoming Defense, and Cartouche of Strength, all of which are replaceable, while another two-drop-heavy build drops Scrapheap Scrounger and most of the Vehicles for cards like Merfolk Branchwalker, and GR Unsealing is built off of a similar foundation but with the non-rotating Sarkhan's Unsealing as another payoff for playing big green creatures.

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If you take all of this information together, two things seem likely: first, the most popular builds of Mono-Green Stompy will go through significant changes at rotation. Second, Mono-Green Stompy is very likely to exist in Guilds of Ravnica Standard. If you simply combined together the three lists we talked about and replaced various rotating cards with Vine Mare, Merfolk Branchwalker, Gigantosaurus, and such, the end result looks like a very playable rotation-proof list of Mono-Green Stompy, and this doesn't even include any new cards the deck might get from Guilds of Ravnica itself. So, if you're a Mono-Green Stompy player, it's probably wise to starting thinking about how you'll want to change your list for Guilds of Ravnica Standard, but you should feel confident that you'll get another year of play out of your deck with some tweaks. 

Key Rotating Cards: Liliana, Death's Majesty, The Scarab God, Champion of Wits, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Torrential Gearhulk, Fatal Push, Doomfall.

Key Surviving Cards: Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, Vraska's Contempt, Essence Scatter, Cast Down

There are two builds of Grixis Midrange near the top of our current Standard format: one that delves more into the energy subtheme to support Whirler Virtuoso and one with fewer energy cards. Neither deck survives rotation. Apart from a couple of random removal spells, the only staple Grixis Midrange card that survives rotation is Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. While Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is powerful enough that it will likely find a home in our post-rotation Standard format, there's no doubt that the deck will look much different than it does today, since every single creature and planeswalker in the deck leaves the format at rotation. 

The bigger problem for Grixis Midrange is that a lot of the cards the deck is losing are hard to replace. The Scarab God has been one of the best cards in Standard for a long time, and due to the amount of complaining about the God, it's unlikely that anything will be quite as pushed in Guilds of Ravnica, while Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is the first Dark Confidant variant that has actually been a Standard staple since the original Bob, even though a ton of different versions were printed in between. This doesn't even include Torrential Gearhulk, another card that was in the running for best card in Standard at some points in the past.

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On the other hand, both Dimir and Izzet are supported guilds in Guilds of Ravnica, which means Grixis is likely to get a lot of new toys. Whether or not any of the new Guilds of Ravnica additions can match the power of The Scarab God and friends remains to be seen, but it seems likely that the sheer number of Grixis cards coming this fall will keep some sort of Grixis midrange deck playable in Standard.

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All this is to say that while people will figure out a way to abuse Nicol Bolas, the Ravager because the Elder Dragon is too powerful to sit on the sidelines, Grixis Midrange is losing so many powerful cards that just how good the archetype will be in the post-rotation world remains to be seen. While it's possible that the deck will simply load up on Guilds of Ravnica cards and remain a typical good stuff midrange deck, it's also quite possible that rather than traditional Grixis Midrange, people will move toward some sort of multi-color Dragon build to fill the void. In fact, we've already started to see the first steps in this direction. While Grixis Dragons still loses a lot at rotation, Goblin Chainwhirler, Sarkhan, Fireblood, and Demanding Dragon all survive and form a nice shell around Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. If you're a current Grixis Midrange player, it might be worth taking small steps in this direction in preparation for rotation.

Key Rotating Cards: Winding Constrictor, Verdurous Gearhulk, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Rishkar, Peema Renegade, Walking Ballista.

Key Surviving Cards: Jadelight Ranger, Llanowar Elves, Ravenous Chupacabra

There's a very simple rule when it comes to evaluating decks for rotation: if the deck is named after a card that's rotating, it probably isn't going to survive rotation. This is the case with GB Constrictor. Without the namesake Winding Constrictor to double up +1/+1 counters, there simply isn't a payoff for the deck. Of course, this isn't the only problem. Apart from losing its payoff, GB Constrictor also loses most of its good counter cards, with Walking Ballista, Verdurous Gearhulk and Rishkar, Peema Renegade all leaving the format. 

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Meanwhile, the main surviving cards are Jadelight Ranger and Llanowar Elves, and while both of these cards will be playable in our post-rotation world, they likely won't be in a +1/+1 counter-themed deck. Instead, it's more likely that Jadelight Ranger and Llanowar Elves will move into a deck like Mono-Green Stompy, or perhaps an Ixalan-themed explore deck will find its legs in a smaller post-rotation Standard format. Still, if you've been a Snek player over the past 18 months, the end is in sight, and it's very unlikely that you'll be able to keep playing anything that even slightly resembles your current deck in Guilds of Ravnica Standard.

Key Rotating Cards: Disallow, Cast Out, Fumigate, Pull from Tomorrow, Commit // Memory.

Key Surviving Cards: Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Search for Azcanta, Seal Away.

UW Control doesn't really care at all about rotation. Sure, it loses a handful of random utility spells, but the core of the deck is Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Search for Azcanta, which survives, which means the deck will survive along with it. The only downside for the deck is that it might not get that much support in Guilds of Ravnica, since Azorius isn't a supported guild (although watch out in February, when Ravnica Allegiance will likely bring a bunch of new toys). 

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The other big upside of UW Control in a post-rotation world is that the pieces it is losing are either easily replaceable or already have replacements in the format. Disallow is a great three-mana counter, but we get new three-mana counters in every set, and even if UW Control has to replace Disallow with Cancel, it wouldn't lose that much in 95% of games. Meanwhile, Cast Out turns into Ixalan's Binding, Fumigate gets a slight downgrade (depending on the metagame) to Cleansing Nova, and the deck keeps doing its thing. 

Basically, UW Control doesn't really lose anything of consequence, and what it does lose is easily replaced with options that aren't significantly worse. When you combine this with the fact that some must-answer threats like Hazoret the Fervent and The Scarab God are rotating from Standard, UW Control seems like an early favorite to be one of the better decks in Guilds of Ravnica Standard. Most of the other top decks are at the very least getting worse, and some are disappearing altogether, while UW Control should remain roughly as good as it is today, not counting any random Guilds of Ravnica upgrades. If you're a UW Control player, you should be looking forward to rotation—it should be a good thing for your deck.

Key Rotating Cards: Aetherflux Reservoir, Inspiring Statuary, Paradoxical Outcome, Baral's Expertise, Commit // Memory, Metallic Rebuke, Renegade Map, Inventors' Fair, Glint-Nest Crane

Key Surviving Cards: Sai, Master Thopterist

Mono-Blue Storm is dead, and there's not much more to say about it. In order, the most important cards to the deck are Aetherflux Reservoir, Inspiring Statuary, Paradoxical Outcome, and Baral's Expertise, and every single one is rotating. Unless Wizards somehow makes storm a supported mechanic in Guilds of Ravnica (which isn't happening), the storm plan will leave Standard at rotation. 

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This being said, there is a hint of good news about the deck. While the combo kill will be off the table come rotation, Sai, Master Thopterist, Karn, Scion of Urza, and Treasure Map will still be around, and we got some interesting artifact cards in Core Set 2019, so it's possible that we'll see a Mono-Blue Artifact deck stick around in Guilds of Ravnica Standard. While it won't be storming off, perhaps it will add Tezzeret, Artifact Master and take a more midrange or controlling approach. The pieces are there to make it work, and having many tier decks leave the format at rotation could be the shakeup that artifacts need to develop into a real deck. That said, if you are playing the Mono-Blue Storm deck, enjoy the next couple of months because your deck will be dead at rotation, and because the deck isn't just losing one key combo piece but four, there's almost zero chance that something printed in Guilds of Ravnica will change this fact. 

Key Rotating Cards: God-Pharaoh's Gift, Refurbish, Angel of Invention, Champion of Wits, Minister of Inquiries.

Key Surviving Cards: None.

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Not much to say about this one. The namesake God-Pharaoh's Gift will rotate, all of the support cards will rotate, and most of the removal and sweepers will rotate, but hey, at least you still have Chart a Course

Key Rotating Cards: The Scarab God, Torrential Gearhulk, Fatal Push

Key Surviving Cards: Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Search for Azcanta, Settle the Wreckage, Vraska's Contempt

Esper Control is very similar to UW Control, except splashing black for more removal options and The Scarab God. Without The Scarab God and Fatal Push, there really isn't a reason to be Esper instead of straight UW Control, which means that most Esper Control players will likely add in a couple more copies of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and morph into UW Control players at rotation. 

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This being said, there's one huge complicating factor here: Dimir will be a supported tribe in Guilds of Ravnica, while Azorius won't be supported until Ravnica Allegiances in the winter. While Esper dropping black and turning into UW Control is still the most likely rotational outcome, if Guilds of Ravnica gives us some strong Dimir control cards, this could cause the deck to remain in Esper colors. At this point, there's really no way of knowing—we'll just have to wait and see. Still, only considering the cards currently legal in Standard, without The Scarab God and Fatal Push, there's almost no reason to play Esper Control over straight UW Control.

Key Rotating Cards: Lord of the Accursed, Liliana's Mastery, Dread Wanderer, Fatal Push, Scrapheap Scrounger

Key Surviving Cards: Death Baron, Liliana, Untouched by Death, Diregraf Ghoul, Graveyard Marshal

Unless Guilds of Ravnica brings a bunch of Zombies with it, it seems like the tribe's success in Standard will be short-lived. The main reason to play Zombies right now is that the tribe has a ton of good lords, but with rotation claiming both Lord of the Accursed and Liliana's Mastery, the deck will suddenly be down to just Death Baron, so this competitive advantage will be gone. On the other hand, if Guilds of Ravnica brings us a Zombie lord (which is possible, as Golgari will be a supported tribe and has had Zombie themes in the past), it's possible that Golgari Zombies could emerge as a post-rotation deck.

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Discounting whatever goodies Guilds of Ravnica will bring the tribe, the best hope for Zombies in post-rotation Standard might be to drop the Zombie theme and focus on being a Mono-Black Aggro deck. Both Diregraf Ghoul and Graveyard Marshal are powerful cards even without tribal synergies, especially in aggressive lists, so perhaps this will give some of the surviving Zombie cards a chance to remain playable after most of their lords leave Standard in a couple of months. 

Out of all the decks we talked about today, Zombies is the one where you need to be watching Guilds of Ravnica spoilers closely. Unlike decks like Mono-Blue Storm or GB Constrictor, which are dead at rotation regardless of what is printed in Guilds of Ravnica, for Zombies, there is some amount of hope that the tribe will get enough cards in Guilds of Ravnica that it can remain in the top tiers of Standard. It's also possible that Guilds of Ravnica won't contain many Zombies and the tribe will fade away or morph into a non-tribal black aggro deck. At this point, only time will tell.

Other Decks

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  • Anything with God-Pharaoh's Gift in it will die at rotation. It doesn't really matter what color combination the deck features. The problem is the rotation of God-Pharaoh's Gift itself.
  • Mono-White Angels is an early favorite for a deck to improve at rotation. It loses only fringe pieces, with its entire creature-base\ sticking around outside of two copies of Walking Ballista (which aren't that good in the deck anyway).
  • The same is true of WB Knights. In fact, the deck will keep all of its creatures and planeswalkers, while only losing some replaceable removal spells like Fatal Push and Thopter Arrest.

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  • UB Artifacts is one of the trickier decks to evaluate. The archetype will keep many of its most powerful cards in Karn, Scion of Urza and Tezzeret, Artifice Master but lose the improvise cards from Kaladesh block and some random support artifacts like Renegade Map, which are more important than they look at first glance. While a Karn / Tezzeret artifact deck could certainly emerge post-rotation, it will require a lot of rebuilding to account for the missing pieces.
  • If you're looking for a competitive, budget-friendly deck for Guilds of Ravnica Standard, the best starting point will probably be Mono-Red Flame of the Keld, which is pretty similar to our Flaming Wizards Burn deck from Budget Magic. The deck is already posting some results and won't lose much compared to the rest of the red aggro decks in the format (primarily Bomat Courier and Soul-Scar Mage, which can hopefully be replaced by other red one-drops). Plus, going as aggressive as possible is often a good strategy for immediately after rotation, as you can punish other players for playing sub-optimal builds with new cards.
  • Wizards are another good option, although they are riskier than Mono-Red Flame of the Keld, since Naban, Dean of Iteration gets blown out by Goblin Chainwhirler.

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  • Ramp decks like Temur Sifter Wurm are in a weird place. Hour of Promise (and often Hour of Devastation) forms the foundation of those decks. While Grow from the Ashes can provide a substitute, not making Zombies or getting non-basics is a big downgrade in power. While there are more than enough good ramp cards for the archetype to survive, the question is just how powerful the deck will be when you account for the good cards that will rotate. My guess is that ramp in general will be worse but not so much worse that it's completely unplayable, although we'll have to see what Guilds of Ravnica will bring.

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  • Finally, don't forget the Ixalan tribes. While they haven't been putting up results recently, Vampires, Merfolk, Dinosaurs, and Pirates will all get better by default at rotation because they will lose nothing, while most of the best decks in Standard will lose somewhere between a lot and everything. This could mean that it will finally be time for some of these tribes to shine, especially if Goblin Chainwhirler (which is basically the fun police for every non-Dinosaur tribe in Standard) becomes less popular thanks to many of the good red aggro cards rotating.

Wrap-Up: Ranking the Decks

Let's wrap things up today by ranking the decks in terms of how likely they are to survive rotation. The plan is simple: the decks in the top tier are mostly likely to survive rotation with few changes. The middle decks have a chance to survive rotation but will likely need to adapt by adding some new cards, while the lowest tier of decks are most likely dead when rotation comes calling in a couple of months (barring a lot of surprise support from Guilds of Ravnica). 

Here, it's important to be very clear about one thing: this ranking is based solely on how likely the deck is to survive rotation. It's not a ranking of how good the decks will be after rotation. Without knowing what cards and decks will emerge from Guilds of Ravnica itself, it's impossible to guess the post-rotation meta, although it is true that decks that are already good in a big Standard format and will lose comparatively little at rotation will certainly have a leg up in Guilds of Ravnica Standard, compared to decks that need a major overhaul or are starting from scratch. 

  • Tier 1 (Already Good, Don't Lose Much): UW Control, Mono-Green Stompy.
  • Tier 1.5 (Up-and-Comers, Lower-Tier Currently but Likely Better Post-Rotation): Mono-White (or GW / Abzan) Angels, WB Knights, Mono-Red Flame of the Keld.
  • Tier 2 (Currently Good but Will Need Help or a Rebuild at Rotation, May or May Not Survive): Grixis Midrange / Dragons, Red (or RB) Aggro,  Zombies, Ramp, UB Tezzeret / Karn Artifacts, Esper Control.
  • Tier 2.5 (Currently Not Competitive but Likely Better at Rotation): Dinosaurs, WB Vampires, UG / Mono-Blue Merfolk, Pirates, Goblins, UR Wizards, Mono-Blue Wizards.
  • Tier 3 (Dead at Rotation without a Miracle from Guilds of Ravnica): God-Pharaoh's Gift decks, GB Constrictor, Mono-Blue Storm, Cats, Cycling Control, Approach of the Second Sun.

Of course, this tier system isn't flawless, especially the tier-two decks. For example, it's very likely that some sort of Grixis Midrange deck with Nicol Bolas, the Ravager will be a part of post-rotation Standard. The question is more about how good it will be than whether or not it will exist. On the other hand, there's about a 50 / 50 chance that Zombies will remain a playable deck (if they get support from Guilds of Ravnica) or that they will completely cease to exist (if they don't get Guilds of Ravnica support). Still, despite these flaws, the tier list should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect post-rotation. 

Probably the easiest way to think of it is that tier-one decks will very likely be heavily played in post-rotation Standard, regardless of what happens in Guilds of Ravnica. Tier-1.5 decks will come with risk, since they aren't as established as the tier-one decks, but otherwise look similar, in the sense that they basically keep all of their cards at rotation. Tier-two decks could go either way—they lose a ton of their best cards but also keep enough staples that people will at least try to make them work in post-rotation Standard, and with the right support from Guilds of Ravnica, they could stay near the top of Standard after rotation. Tier-2.5 decks will get better at rotation because they will keep their cards, while other decks will lose important things, which makes them similar to the tier-1.5 decks, except that the tier-2.5 decks have a lower baseline because they currently aren't seeing tournament-level play (while the tier-1.5 decks all have at least some recent results). Finally, tier three are decks that you should probably just forget about because they will lose too many key pieces to have a chance post-rotation, unless Wizards does something super crazy and unprecedented (like reprint God-Pharaoh's Gift in Guilds of Ravnica, even though it doesn't fit the flavor of the plane).

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. What deck are you most excited about for post-rotation Guilds of Ravnica Standard? If your deck is rotating, what are you planning on switching to? What other decks get better at rotation? Are their any other decks that get significantly worse? Let me know in the comments! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions below, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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