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Preparing for Rotation: The Decks


With the release of Core Set 2020 in the rear-view mirror, we've officially reached the point in Standard's life where the next set release will bring rotation along with it. This means in just about two months, both Ixalan sets, Dominaria, and Core Set 2019 will leave Standard forever and move into the great Magic afterlife of eternal formats like Modern, Legacy, Commander, and now Historic. While these older formats mean that some rotating Standard cards will still be in demand even after rotation, only a small percentage of cards from Standard will be powerful enough to find a home in non-rotating formats. As a result, the prices of most cards from Ixalan, Rivals of Ixalan, Dominaria, and Core Set 2019 will drop drastically over the next two or three months, and many will never recover.

As such, if you're someone who is looking to play Standard for as little money as possible (or, in the case of Magic Arena, as few wildcards as possible), one of the most important things you can do is manage your collection through rotation, by selling or trading away cards that will soon by useless while keeping cards that will remain in Standard for another year (or, on Arena, you can avoid spending wildcards in building soon-to-be-rotating decks for the rest of the summer and instead save them to build post-rotation decks this fall).

Now that we have a fairly good idea of what Core Set 2020 Standard looks like, our goal for today is simple: take a look at the most popular decks in Standard and see how likely it is that these decks will survive rotation. Of course, we can't account for changes in the metagame, and we don't know what new cards will show up in the fall set, so our prediction will be inexact (for example, a deck like Temur Elementals loses almost nothing at rotation, but the metagame could shift in a way where it isn't as popular in a few months). But we should be able to get a general idea of which decks have a chance to stick around for another year and which decks are likely to fade away once rotation hits.

In theory, in paper and on Magic Arena, it makes the most financial sense to focus on decks that have at last some chance to remain playable after rotation. While a deck might be great today, if it's going to lose most of its cards to rotation in a few months, it probably isn't worth wasting your wildcards or hard-earned money on putting it together if you are trying to play on a budget. On the other hand, decks that look likely to survive rotation might actually be good investments since if a deck is good enough to be competitive now with eight sets in Standard, there's a good chance it will be even better after rotation with only five sets making up the Standard format.

Each of the decks is broken down into one of three categories: our first group of decks are very likely to survive rotation and continue to be competitive for another year in Standard (although again, this is a guess based on what we know today—metagame changes and new cards will shake things up in coming months). The second group of decks might survive rotation, but they are losing enough key cards that their futures are uncertain. Finally, the third group of decks are almost assuredly not going to survive rotation unless they get a surprising (and unlikely) amount of help from the fall set. Meanwhile, for each deck, we'll talk about key rotating cards, discuss what the fall set could bring to help the deck survive rotation, and also give the deck a rotation rating, with 10 being essentially guaranteed to survive rotation and zero being almost certainly not surviving rotation.

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Oh yeah, before we get to the decks, one quick note. Most of the decks we'll talk about today will lose some lands at rotation, so rather than repeating the same basic points over and over again as we go through each deck, let's get this out of the way now once and for all. While it is true that the buddy lands (the duals from Ixalan and Dominaria, like Hinterland Harbor and Rootbound Crag) will be rotating this fall, we already have replacements for half of the cycle in the scry lands from Core Set 2020 and will likely get another cycle in the fall set. As such, the assumption is that most decks will simply be able to replace the rotating lands with scry lands and whatever the fall set brings and maintain a functional mana base. While potentially losing a (mostly) untapped cycle of dual lands for the tapped scry lands will theoretically hurt aggro slightly and help midrange and control, it seems unlikely that any of the decks we'll talk about today will go from playable to unplayable based on changes to the mana base.

Group A: Likely to Survive Rotation

Temur Elementals

Major Rotational Losses: Llanowar Elves

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What Could the Fall Set Do to Help? Really, Temur Elementals doesn't need much help to stick around after rotation, but more good Elementals wouldn't hurt.

Rotation Score: 10 / 10. 

If you're looking for a deck that is almost guaranteed to survive rotation, Temur Elementals is by far the best bet. It's basically a Core Set 2020 block constructed deck. In fact, the only non-land card that will rotate from Temur Elementals is Llanowar Elves, and while losing Llanowar Elves does hurt, it's a loss felt by every green deck in the format and not just Temur Elementals. 

The other big loss to Temur Elemental is in the mana base, with the dual lands from Ixalan and Dominaria rotating, but much like Llanowar Elves, this is a change that impacts basically all three-color decks (and even some two-color decks) in the format. We already have scry lands as a partial replacement, and there will almost assuredly be another cycle of dual lands in the fall set. While playing three colors might be a little bit harder after rotation, it shouldn't be too problematic to assemble a functional three-color mana base. 

Basically, it's exceedingly likely that Temur Elementals will remain a solid deck after rotation this fall. While it might be less likely than some decks to get a ton of new cards from the next set release (since Elementals is sort of a fringe tribe that doesn't show up all that often), it might get better by default just because many of the current top decks in Standard will end up getting hurt more by rotation,

Esper Control / Hero

Major Rotational Losses: Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

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What Could the Fall Set Do to Help? Esper's post-rotation concerns aren't so much about the card pool but more about the metagame. So far, the deck has taken a big hit in popularity since the release of Core Set 2020. And when you add perhaps its best card (in Teferi, Hero of Dominaria) leaving the format, a small drop in power combined with a potentially hostile meta may be too much for the deck to overcome. 

Rotation Rating: 9 / 10. 

If you were hoping that Teferi, Hero of Dominaria rotating would mean the end of Esper Hero / Control in Standard, I have some bad news: the deck basically loses nothing except for Teferi itself, which means its likely to stick around, albeit in a somewhat powered-down form. While it might sound crazy to think that a deck could lose one of the most powerful planeswalkers to be printed in years and survive, remember that Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils aren't going anywhere. And there are a bunch of powerful planeswalkers (like Liliana, Dreadhorde General) that can replace Teferi, Hero of Dominaria in the role of finisher. Otherwise, literally every creature and utility spell (outside of a single Cast Down, which can easily be replaced) in the current build of Esper Hero will survive rotation. My guess is that while the loss of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria will hurt, Esper will find a replacement and continue to be a playable deck after rotation. The big question is where it fits in the metagame, and the drop in popularity since the release of Core Set 2020 is concerning for the archetype. The pieces are there for the deck to succeed, but will the metagame cooperate? 

Bant Ramp / Manipulation

Major Rotational Losses: Llanowar Elves, Entrancing Melody.

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What Could the Fall Set Do to Help? Reprint Llanowar Elves.

Rotation Rating: 8 / 10

We've seen two ramp / Mass Manipulation decks take off in Standard—Simic and Bant—and the Bant build is the better bet to survive rotation, mostly because it is less reliant on the rotating Entrancing Melody since it has access to white removal spells. In fact, the most current Bant Ramp / Manipulation decks only play a couple of copies of Entrancing Melody anyway, so the loss shouldn't be all that meaningful.

Otherwise, the deck loses Llanowar Elves, like basically every green deck. But in a world where scry lands will likely become a bigger part of the mana base (thanks to the rotation of the Ixalan / Dominaria dual lands), replacing Llanowar Elves with something like Incubation Druid and playing a tapped land on Turn 1 should be just fine and likely the standard for green-based ramp decks, outside of a surprise Llanowar Elves reprint this fall. Remember, it was only a couple of years ago that Llanowar Elves was on Wizards' "too good for Standard" list, so rather than being disappointed about having to return to two-mana mana dorks, be thankful that Wizards allowed Llanowar Elves into the format at all. On the other hand, we did just survive nearly 18 months of Standard with Llanowar Elves in the format, and it didn't seem to break anything. So maybe there is a chance that Wizards' opinion has changed and the Elf (or a one-mana replacement) will show up this fall.

Either way, since the core of Simic Ramp is War of the Spark planeswalkers and Guilds of Ravnica–block creatures and spells, the deck should continue to be playable and powerful in Standard even after we lose Ixalan block, Dominaria, and Core Set 2019 in a couple of months.

Group B: Might Survive Rotation but Will Need to Adapt

Mono-Red Aggro

Major Rotational Losses: Goblin Chainwhirler, Ghitu Lavarunner, Fanatical Firebrand, Lightning Strike

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What Could the Fall Set Do to Help: Provide at least one above-average red one-drop and reprint Lightning Strike (or an equally powerful replacement).

Reprint Rating: 7 / 10

Mono-Red is a weird case. A big chunk of its key cards rotate this fall, but the deck seems likely to survive rotation anyway. It feels like it has been a few years since we've had a Standard that was lacking a playable (and often tier-one) Mono-Red Aggro build. And even with some burn, Goblin Chainwhirler, and the best red one-drop in the format rotating, the deck is a good bet to stick around. Experimental Frenzy isn't going anywhere, and Runaway Steam-Kin also dodges rotation. Throw in Shock and Skewer the Critics for burn, along with Light up the Stage for additional card advantage, and it seems like Mono-Red Aggro can probably just play whatever one-drops happened to be available and remain a decent deck. Losing Lightning Strike is a bit of a concern, although it's very possible it will show up in the fall set. And even if it doesn't, there will probably be some replacement printed that will be good enough to fill the role, even if it isn't quite Lightning Strike

Mono-Red being in the "maybe" group rather than the "likely" group is mostly because we simply don't know what support we'll get in the fall set. Right now, the best non-rotating one-drops are Goblin Banneret, Scorch Spitter, and Footlight Fiend, which are fine but a pretty big step down from Ghitu Lavarunner and Fanatical Firebrand. Meanwhile, none of the potential Lightning Strike replacements (Chandra's Triumph, Jaya's Greeting, or Lava Coil) actually deal damage to players, which could be a big problem if there isn't a good replacement (or literal Lightning Strike) in the fall set. As such, it seems likely that Mono-Red will be able to adapt and remain a force in post-rotating Standard, but it it isn't guaranteed.

Boros Feather

Major Rotational Losses: Adanto Vanguard, Reckless Rage

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What Could the Fall Set Do to Help? Give the deck some sort of repeatable removal that isn't a fight / pseudo-fight mechanic since Feather's creatures are a bit too small to take advantage of repeated fighting.

Rotation Rating: 6 / 10

At first glance, it seems like Boros Feather should be a good bet to survive rotation since the deck loses very few cards in number. On the other hand, Reckless Rage is one of the most important cards in the Feather deck, and it will be rotating this fall, which leaves Feather in a weird spot. Right now, there isn't a good replacement for Reckless Rage in the format. Something like Thrash // Threat can sort of work, but you can't cast it from the graveyard with Dreadhorde Arcanist, and it's not good at killing bigger creatures since most of the creatures in the Feather deck are pretty small. Losing Reckless Rage means that Boros Feather will have to play a fairer game plan rather than machine-gunning down all of its opponent's creatures, turn after turn. 

On the other hand, Feather, the Redeemed still has the ability to generate a ton of value, and Gods Willing (another key card for the deck) was just printed in Core Set 2020, so Feather, the Redeemed might evolve and become more of a full-on combo deck after rotating. Plus, a lot of cards from Core Set 2020 seem to suggest we might return to Theros at some point in the near future, and if the heroic mechanic returns, it would be a huge boon for Feather players everywhere. My guess is that Feather will remain the centerpiece of a playable deck after rotating, but it will have to adapt quite a bit to make up for the loss of Reckless Rage

Simic Flash

Major Rotational Losses: Merfolk Trickster, Syncopate, Essence Scatter.

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What Could the Fall Set Do to Help? Offer an early-game counterspell to replace Syncopate and Essence Scatter.

Rotation Rating: 7 / 10

Simic Flash was super close to being in the likely-to-survive group, mostly because replacements for some of the rotating pieces are already available in the format. While certainly a big step down from Merfolk Trickster, Faerie Duelist could fill a similar role as a defensive, flash two-drop (although it's a lot worse at tapping down a blocker and allowing for a big attack). Meanwhile, Quench can counter something on Turn 2 even better than Syncopate (although it doesn't scale as well into the late game), and Essence Capture would be an upgrade to Essence Scatter if its double-blue mana cost weren't somewhat problematic. While any one of these downgrades by themselves wouldn't be that big of a deal (outside of maybe Merfolk Trickster, which has proven to be a really powerful Magic card), when you combine them all together, there is at least some reason to be concerned that the drop in power could be big enough to keep Simic Flash from remaining near the top of the format.

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The good news for Simic Flash is that every set has counterspells, and cards like Syncopate and Essence Scatter tend to be reprinted fairly often, so there's a good chance that the deck will get at least one new, good counter from the fall set. Assuming it does, then Simic Flash will only really lose Merfolk Trickster, which is a big but probably not insurmountable loss since it could be replaced with some sort of instant-speed bounce spell, Faerie Duelist, or, if the deck chooses to go bigger, something like Dream Eater. Basically, with an average amount of support from the fall set, Simic Flash should be fine after rotation, but it falls into the might-survive group because we simply don't know what the future will hold. 

White Weenie

Major Rotational Losses: Benalish Marshal, Adanto Vanguard, History of Benalia, Legion's Landing, three one-drops.

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What Could the Fall Set Do to Help? Offer more resilient threats and powerful payoffs.

Rotation Rating: 3 / 10

White Weenie is really close to being in the "unlikely to survive" group but remains a tier higher, mostly because a big chunk of its losses (essentially Savannah Lions one-drops) are replaceable. Similar to Mono-Red Aggro, there are almost always pieces to build a White Weenie deck in Standard, but the deck only emerges in the top tiers of the format when it has the right payoffs. The biggest problem for White Weenie at rotation is that nearly all of the cards that made the deck good—especially History of Benalia, Legion's Landing, and Adanto Vanguard—will be leaving the format. These cards allow White Weenie to be more than a glass-cannon aggro deck and offered the deck a way to fight through removal, sweepers, and basically whatever disruption the opponent could throw at it. Without these cards, it's likely White Weenie will return to the "play a bunch of one-drops and pray for no sweeper" play style, which is admittedly a play style that can steal a reasonable number of wins, especially for a budget-friendly deck, but is unlikely to keep the deck as a truly competitive, top-tier option in post-rotation Standard.

Group C: Very Unlikely to Survive Rotation

Simic Nexus

Major Rotational Losses: Nexus of Fate

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What Could the Fall Set Do to Help? Reprint Nexus of Fate

Rotation Rating: 0 / 10

Normally, you're in trouble when your deck is named after one specific card and that card rotates, and that is doubly true of Nexus of Fate since it is such a unique card (and so widely disliked) that the chances of a replacement being reprinted in the fall set are basically zero. While some sort of Simic deck with ramp, Tamiyo, Collector of Tales, and Narset, Parter of Veils will likely stick around (maybe something with Flood of Tears, although with Omniscience also rotating, I'm not sure what the payoff would be), the game plan of taking all the turns while your opponent helplessly clicks on your Magic Arena cat until they get banned will die when Nexus of Fate rotates, and Standard will be a better place because of it.

Major Rotational Losses: Every Vampire outside of Knight of the Ebon Legion; Legion's Landing

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What Could the Fall Set Do to Help? Be a tribal set that features Vampires. There are so many missing pieces for Vampires that a few random Vampires here and there would be unlikely to be enough to keep the tribe alive over the short-term.

Reprint Rating: 2 / 10

Outside of Temur Elementals, Orzhov Vampires have been the hottest breakout deck from Core Set 2020. Sadly, it looks like their newfound dominance will be short-lived. While the tribe gets to keep Knight of the Ebon Legion and some random planeswalkers, basically every playable Vampire in Standard is from Ixalan block, which means they are all rotating this fall. Is it possible Vampires will get enough support to rebuild and remain competitive? In theory, yes, but it would take an extremely Vampire-heavy set to make it happen. A more likely outcome is that Vampires will sort of turn Amonkhet-era Zombies—they will die at rotation, but as the next year of sets come out, they will slowly get more support, little by little, set by set, until next summer, when they actually have enough pieces to be competitive again. In the meantime, Knight of the Ebon Legion is strong enough that some sort of black-based aggro deck could develop, but it likely won't be Vampire tribal. 

Major Rotational Losses: Ghalta, Primal Hunter, Ripjaw Raptor, Otepic Huntmaster, Regisaur Alpha, Commune with Dinosaurs

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What Could the Fall Set Do to Help? Be a return to Ixalan or another Dino-infested plane.

Rotation Rating: 1 / 10

The story of Dinosaurs is almost exactly the same as the story of Vampires: since the tribe is mostly from Ixalan block, it's losing almost all of its playable tribe members at rotation. In some ways, Dinosaurs actually have it worse than Vampires since Dinosaurs are printed infrequently (so there's less chance they will get a bunch of support in the fall set), while Vampires show up in most sets. The good news for Dinosaur fans is that individual tribe members will likely continue to see play in Standard. Shifting Ceratops has quickly risen in the ranks of most played Standard creatures, while both Rotting Regisaur and Marauding Raptor have potential, even outside of a Dinosaur shell. That said, it seems unlikely that Dinosaur tribal will remain a thing after rotation, so enjoy the tribe for the rest of the summer.

Mono-Blue Tempo

Major Rotational Losses: Curious Obsession, Tempest Djinn, Merfolk Trickster, Siren Stormtamer, Wizard's Retort, Lookout's DispersalSpell Pierce, Dive Down

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What Could the Fall Set Do to Help? It would start with a Curious Obsession reprint, but in reality, the deck will lose so many pieces that it's hard to imagine any one set offering enough support for the deck to stick around.

Rotation Rating: 1 /  10

Mono-Blue Tempo gets absolutely wrecked by rotation, losing most of its creatures, nearly all of its counterspells, and its best card in Curious Obsession. Thanks to the rotation of Tempest Djinn, it also loses its primary incentive for players to run an all-basic-Island mana base. Without Curious Obsession as a payoff for evasive one-drops and without Tempest Djinn to push players into Mono-Blue, the most likely outcome is that Mono-Blue Tempo players will migrate to something like Simic Flash, a deck that plays a somewhat similar style but gets to keep most of its best cards. While it will be a bit sad to lose one of the most competitive ultra-budget decks we've had in Standard for a long time, I'm guessing most players won't be too broken up that the "one-drop into Curious Obsession into counter all of your spells for the rest of the game" play pattern will be leaving the format in just two short months.

Quick Hitters on Other Decks

The decks we talked about above cover the 12 most played in the format and, in reality, even more, since some of the lesser played decks in Standard are variations on the most popular decks (like Boros Feather and Naya Feather or Jund Dinosaurs and Gruul Dinosaurs), making them similar enough that our breakdown will hold true for the variations as well. That said, a few more decks and archetypes are worth mentioning. While we aren't going to give them a full write-up, here are some quick hitters on some of the lesser played decks in the format.

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  • While not at the top of the format right now, one of the biggest losses at rotation will be the explore package of Wildgrowth Walker, Merfolk Branchwalker, and Jadelight Ranger, which formed the foundation for everything from Mono-Green Tron to Golgari Explore to many Command the Dreadhorde decks. Without the explore creatures, all of these decks (and more) will have to adapt greatly and might just be dead in the water (although Command the Dreadhorde will likely continue to see play since people have found ways to use the mass-reanimation spell without the explore package).

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Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. Which decks do you expect to survive, and which do you expect to die at rotation? What pieces could come this fall to support currently underplayed decks in the format? Let me know in the comments! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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