Rotation

Posted in Top Decks on March 4, 2016

By Maria Bartholdi

Maria is one half of the podcast Magic the Amateuring. When she's not working on the podcast, she's probably in an improv show, speaking Welsh, or thinking about popcorn. Rakdos is the true nature of her heart.

A lot of my childhood was spent getting scraped knees on playgrounds in my neighborhood. And what was the surest way to a scraped knee?

Those spinny playground things.

You know what I'm talking about—you pushed them around and then jumped on, often falling off or losing your lunch. They were amazing. Apparently, they're called "roundabouts," which I discovered after searching "spinny playground thing" (which was auto-completed, by the way).

Much like a roundabout, Magic cards give me that same childlike rush of joy. They're also similar in another way: they rotate. Not quite in the same way, but still.

Even if you didn't live through hundreds of harrowing hours on a roundabout, don't worry! You can still revel in the joy of rotation.

"What do you mean by 'rotation'?" you ask, confused not only by the term but also by my wafer-thin metaphor.

I'm glad you asked! With the release of every new large set, cards in Magic rotate out of Standard (meaning they are no longer legal to play in that format) and enter what I like to call the Retirement Zone.

The Retirement Zone isn't as geriatric as its name implies, nor is it a new horror-twist-flick from M. Night Shyamalan. (Now that I think of it...call me, M. Night.) Lots of great things can happen in the Retirement Zone. Even if a card is no longer legal in Standard, that doesn't mean it won't be totally amazing in some other formats like Modern, Commander, Cube, or even Legacy or Vintage.

The next rotation cycle triggers when Shadows over Innistrad is released on April 8, 2016. Here's what happens:

  • Cards from Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged will no longer be legal in Standard.
  • Dragons of Tarkir and Magic Origins will remain legal until the next large set is released.
  • This is the new way sets will rotate now that we've entered a two-block structure. A rotation will trigger once in the spring and once in the fall.

But it's not the loss of a creature or even a spell that's bound to impact Standard the most during our upcoming rotation. The most impactful loss could very well be nothing more than a set of lands. Fetch lands, that is.

Fetch happened.

For one thing, without fetches in the format, there will be a lot less shuffling. Your hands and the round clock will thank you. For another thing, fetch lands made Standard mana-fixing very powerful, allowing decks to play all the best cards and not be punished for it in their mana bases. You saw this happen in decks like Five-Color Bring to Light, Four-Color Rally, Green Mardu, Dark Jeskai, Wet Abzan, Izzet Oreos...I could go on. Not only were the decks absurdly powerful, the deck names were often powerfully absurd.

Well, no more! Playing five colors won't be as easy, and neither will stuffing your deck full of the best cards regardless of color.

One creature that's sure to make a stir on its way out is none other than that card everyone loves to hate: Siege Rhino. Thanks to its solid stats and a nice "gain and drain" ability, Siege Rhino was immensely powerful (and popular!) in Standard and showed up in many Top 8 decklists—making it something of a pariah. If you're like the cohost of my podcast, Meghan, then you're probably going to throw a party now that Siege Rhino is rotating out.

Promise me that you’ll always remember me this way.

You're also probably going to sit in a corner, rocking back and forth, whispering, "Thank you, thank you," while tears of joy stream down your face.

Once Rhino rotates out, lots of opportunities will open up for other cards that never got their chance to shine.

One card in particular that's gotten a lot of buzz? Chandra, Flamecaller. Already showing up in strong numbers, now Chandra doesn't have to contend with as many 5-toughness creatures as before—certainly none as ubiquitous as the Rhino.

As soon as we see the back of Rhino, I expect to see even more Chandra in the feature match area. We got a preview of how powerful she is in Brock Mosley's Top 8 Decklist at Grand Prix Houston. After all, 6'ing someone out of nowhere ain't nothin'. The double red in her casting cost is a real thing as soon as fetch lands are gone, so that is something to keep in mind.

Brock Mosley's Green Mardu—Top 8, Grand Prix Houston

Brock's deck may be able to survive rotation in some form due to a few very powerful cards eager to earn their moment in the spotlight. I've got my eye on Sylvan Advocate (which is often a 4/5 for two mana), Goblin Dark-Dwellers, and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Even though this deck loses powerful removal such as Crackling Doom, Murderous Cut, and Abzan Charm, it retains the aforementioned cards, which have the potential to become real all-stars.

Here's a decklist from Gavin Verhey that takes full advantage of Sylvan Advocate as well as another card I like to call "Cranial Plating when it's in the right deck." It's a clunky nickname, but hey. Hello, Stoneforge Masterwork.

Gavin Verhey's Flesh and Stoneforge

This deck is flavorful, fast, and able to bring the beats. Play your Elves out early, equip your armor, and cast a Tajuru Warcaller. GG, friends, GG. It is also "rotation-proof"—meaning all of its cards will still be legal (until this fall, at least).

Another card that hasn't really had a chance to make a break for it is a really spicy one: Demonic Pact.

The card design alone on this bad boy should make you want to play it. It's creative, multifaceted, and filled to the brim with flavor. Here's a decklist Tulio_Jaudy played in a Standard Magic Online Championship Series Event (which Eric Froehlich discussed recently) that's built around Demonic Pact.

Tulio_Jaudy's Blue-Black Demonic Pact—Top 32, MOCS Event

While the deck loses quite a few cards post-rotation, it retains two of its most important ingredients: Pact and Jace. It also holds onto Grasp of Darkness, which, just like Chandra and Pact, gets better without Rhino. Hopefully we see a lot of cards in Shadows over Innistrad that will make this deck shine. I love this deck because it just feels evil...and sometimes, being bad can be oh so very good.

Another card I've got my eye on post-rotation is Reflector Mage. One of the most popular decks in Standard right now is Rally the Ancestors, which recently took down GP Houston piloted by No. 1–ranked player Owen Turtenwald.

Owen Turtenwald's Four-Color Rally—Winner, Grand Prix Houston

The deck itself will soon be no more (thanks to the loss of its namesake), but we've learned by watching it play that the inclusion of Reflector Mage is the real deal. While Nantuko Husk and Zulaport Cutthroat will most likely get worse after rotation (due to the loss of Rally), Reflector Mage will continue to be amazing. In fact, Blue Abzan decks are already playing Reflector Mage simply for being Reflector Mage. It's that powerful.

If you're looking for a decklist that still has nearly 100% of the fight left in it after rotation, spoiler alert: you might have to side with the bad guys. Yep, I'm talking about some Eldrazi.

JohnnyHotSauce's Red-Green Eldrazi Ramp—7th place, MOCS Event

Eldrazi Ramp is a really fun deck loaded with ways to cast spells with insane mana costs. Post-rotation, the only creatures/planeswalkers this deck loses is Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, perhaps leaving room for more World Breakers, which...doesn't seem like a bad thing to me.

What about Eldrazi Aggro? Check out this list from Brian DeMars that loses almost nothing to rotation—except for one very important piece.

Brian DeMars's Black-Red Eldrazi Aggro

Yep, it's curtains for Ghostfire Blade. A lot of the aggressive Eldrazi decks in Standard have counted on Ghostfire Blade to give them amazing draws and basically kill an opponent before they can say "good luck, high five." Perhaps they can make like the Elves and consider some armor...?

Other Formats

If you're not quite ready to bid farewell to any of your favorite Standard staples, not to worry, we have plenty of other formats to explore.

Willy Edel's Abzan

This Modern deck was built by Brazilian player and recent Hall of Fame inductee Willy Edel and contains, you guessed it: Siege Rhino. I messaged Willy to ask how he might change around his decklist in the face of the new Eldrazi menace in Modern. He replied "Unfortunately nothing beats it consistently. Yet." The yet in that message gives hope to all Rhino players out there. Is our Rhino friend up to the task? Only time and the ingenuity of Magic players everywhere will tell. Its 4/5 body does profitably block Thought-Knot Seer. Just sayin'.

Let's meet another card that will soon be entering the Retirement Zone. It's Alesha, Who Smiles at Death! In addition to being an awesome character (read Alesha's story here), Alesha is also just a dang good card. While she wasn't part of any tier 1 Standard decks, she made herself a nice home in Mardu Warriors—an aggressive, flavorful deck.

Why lose Alesha to the sands of time? Commander player Brandon Graham Klyne-Simpson was one of those sad to see Alesha rotate out. So, instead, he used her legendary status to set her as his new commander! Check out his Alesha Commander build below.

Brandon's Alesha, Who Smiles at Death

COMMANDER: Alesha, Who Smiles at Death
99 Cards

This deck is a Mardu dream machine and features awesome cards like Butcher of the Horde, Mother of Runes, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and Fiend Hunter. If you like to play red-white-black, look no further, my friends. Or, should I say: my fiends...? Alesha's ability to bring her compatriots back from the graveyard (tapped and attacking) is on full display in this spicy build.

These two are “mailing the same pair of jeans back and forth” tight.

I love Draft more than almost anything in this life, that's a known fact. It was hard to say goodbye to triple Khans Draft because it was so, so good. But guess what? It doesn't have to be goodbye! Here's an idea: build a Khans block cube. I know, I know, it's an amazing idea. You can thank me later. The awesomeness that is KTK Draft can live on!

The best bet if you're inclined to take on this task is to start with a 360-card cube—which means you'll use every card in an eight-player draft. If you draw from every set in Khans block (Khans of Tarkir, Fate Reforged, and Dragons of Tarkir), you'll have 718 cards to pick from. Keep in mind that cubes sometimes contain multiples of the same card—like removal, for example, if you feel like you're light. Or you could put in 50 copies of Icefeather Aven and just let the destruction begin.

User Koey on CubeTutor.com built a Khans cube that looks like an absurd amount of fun.

A Khans block cube could be especially interesting given the emphasis on three-color cards. Should you draft enemy colors and splash for something really powerful? Should you build wedges like you did in triple Khans Draft? Will Temur rise again?! Who knows? That's the beauty of Cube. You can draft it again and again, fine-tuning the mix of cards as you go, until you're satisfied that you've achieved the perfect Cube balance. Another upside to a Khans cube: you could go for a full-on flavor-win and draft in loincloths and furs.

Et Cetera

Playing Magic with your Magic cards isn't the only way to have fun with them. Did you know that I used to do craft segments for a local television morning news show back in the day? Well, I did. I was known as the "Quirky Crafter" and once even made an Easter wreath out of a bunch of Peeps. I'm not going to make you do that. But I will let you in on a really fun craft you can do with some of your old bulk commons. Or your mythic rares, if you're a high roller.

Turns out, making earrings out of Magic cards is incredibly easy and fun. Bonus: they look super fly. Just follow the directions here for some amazing-looking ear candy.

If earrings aren't your bag, might I suggest something completely different? How about an entire floor made out of Magic cards?

Incredible. It's not just the stuff of dreams! Mike Uloth, who owns The Gamers' Niche in Mandeville, Louisiana, decided he wanted to do something special when he opened his own local gaming store this past December. He enlisted the help of loyal customer Cameron McMillion to help with this huge task. After ten gallons of sealant and more money than he would've spent on marble, this incredible floor was born.

There you have it: a bunch of things to do with your cards that will soon be rotating out of Standard. Can't say I didn't give you some choices. If you do happen to make your own Magic card floor, a Khans cube, or something else entirely unique, I'd love to see it! Send me a tweet (@MtACast) and let me know how you spent your time in the Retirement Zone. And then go call your grandma.

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