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Standard is arguably the most popular and widely known MTG format, likely due to its dynamic and evolving gameplay. In it, you use a minimum 60-card deck with no more than four copies of any one card except basic lands from the most recently released sets, created with your wildest dreams in mind. Minus the handful (four as of now) of banned cards, that is.
But what is standard rotation, and why should you care? Well, read on, as we’ll answer both of those questions and much more below.
That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Well, OK, maybe not really, but it’s a question you’re probably asking yourself since you’re here. “When is standard rotation in MTG?” might pop into your head as well. We touched on these topics a bit in our Arena Event Calendar article, but we’ll cover everything you need to know about it here including MTG standard rotation dates, the sets, deck building for standard, and more.
Standard rotation is, quite literally, the rotation of cards in and out of standard play. When it comes to the schedule, it’s pretty straightforward: every fall, WotC rotates out the current sets of cards that can be used in standard and replaces them with a handful of new sets.
Otherwise, we’d currently have a grand total of 82—yes, you heard me, eighty-two—sets available in standard, and a staggering amount of over 18,000 unique cards. It would be impossible to prepare for anything since there is no strategy that can go up against literally every combo in MTG ever. Also, can you imagine trying to figure out which of those 20,000+ cards should be banned, and then having to enforce that at tournaments? I sure wouldn’t want either of those jobs.
As you can imagine, keeping an eye on standard rotation is crucial to know what cards you can and can’t use in the standard format. Planning your future combos and decks is much easier when you know when you’ll be able to use what. It’s also important to manage your collection and know when to sell and when to buy.
That’s about the gist of it. How about we take a look at what it all looks like for 2019, shall we?
Until the next set gets released in July 2020, there’s currently only six sets in standard. These sets are Core Set 2020, War of the Spark, Ravnica Allegiance, and Guilds of Ravnica, Throne of Eldraine. The sixth and most recent addition is Theros Beyond Death, which we’ll talk about a bit more soon.
Because new MTG sets are released throughout the year and standard rotation happens in the fall, there’s a period right after previous sets are rotated out when fewer sets are available for use in standard. There’s a pretty big power difference between having five sets available (right after rotation) versus having eight sets available (right before rotation). Going back to what we said earlier regarding why standard rotation happens, more available sets and thus more available cards offer more opportunity when done in moderation.
It’s as simple as having less vs. more cards to choose from, and so less vs. more possible combos, less vs. more potential synergy, etc. Things start to get out of hand when you add sets indefinitely, which is why older sets get rotated out every year. Compare the power level of standard to that of modern or pioneer, for example.
But there’s no denying that the few months we have with those extra four sets offer much more potential than when we only have five.
So, we mentioned that currently there are six sets in standard: Core Set 2020, War of the Spark, Ravnica Allegiance, Guilds of Ravnica, Throne of Eldraine, Theros Beyond Death. Let’s take a quick look at these, and then we’ll dive in a little further:
|Set||Release Date||Set Symbol|
|Theros Beyond Death||January 24, 2020|
|Throne of Eldraine||October 4, 2019|
|Core Set 2020||July 12, 2019|
|War of the Spark||May 3, 2019|
|Ravnica Allegiance||January 25, 2019|
|Guilds of Ravnica||October 5, 2018|
First, let’s talk about the recently released Theros Beyond Death. With themes of ancient Greece and mythological heroes, I am really pumped about this one. We’ve got some of my favorite things popping up in this set including Sagas returning from Dominaria along with Enchantment creatures. The highlighted keywords/abilities for this set are Constellation and Devotion joined by the new keyword Escape, where cards can be cast from the graveyard by exiling other cards also in the graveyard.
Then there’s Throne of Eldraine. This set takes on a more fairy tale-esque theme having been inspired by the stories of King Arthur as well as Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It offers a lot to the current standard, with plenty of support and opportunities to bolster previously underused cards. Personally, I love playing with cards that offer alternate win scenarios and am very excited to try out Happily Ever After.
Next, there’s Core Set 2020, which features the planeswalker Chandra Nalaar as the face of the set. It re-introduced three leyline cards which hadn’t been printed since Magic 2011 (or Modern Masters 2015 in the case of Leyline of Sanctity).
Moving on to War of the Spark, the first of three sets that are part of the unofficial Guilds of Ravnica block (three guesses as to what the other two sets included are). Its story culminating in a battle between dozens of powerful planeswalkers and the elder dragon Nicol Bolas, this set centers around the Amass, Proliferate, affinity for artifacts, and Crew keywords/abilities.
The second of the unofficial Guilds of Ravnica block, Ravnica Allegiance, features Azorius, Rakdos, Gruul, Simic, and Orzhov, five of the Ravnican guilds. Its symbol is the Guilds of Ravnica symbol flipped upside down, potentially depicting the horns of Nicol Bolas in negative space.
And finally, there’s Guilds of Ravnica, the oldest of the bunch that brought in standard rotation in 2018. This is, of course, the third set in the unofficial Guilds of Ravnica block. This set focused on the Convoke, Mentor, Surveil, Jump-start, and Undergrowth mechanics.
As very briefly mentioned earlier, there are currently only four cards banned in standard MTG. This was last revised on November 18, 2019, and consists of:
- Field of the Dead from Core Set 2020
- Oko, Thief of Crowns from Throne of Eldraine
- Once Upon a Time from Throne of Eldraine
- Veil of Summer from Core Set 2020
There are also reprinted cards that are reintroduced from older sets, sometimes with new art or a different rarity level. So, you’ll sometimes be able to use cards that were available in previous rotations again. Some examples from Throne of Eldraine are Opt and Fling, but my personal favorites are from the Core set: Leyline of the Void and Planar Cleansing.
There are also functional reprints, which is when a card’s function stays the same, but the name and art change. An example of this from Throne of Eldraine would be Charmed Sleep, which is a functional reprint of Claustrophobia.
Unfortunately, there’s over 200 reprinted cards between all five sets currently in standard, so we won’t be listing them all out here. If you’re curious, you can check out the following links for a full list of reprints and functional reprints in each set: Throne of Eldraine; Core Set 2020; War of the Spark; Ravnica Allegiance; Guilds of Ravnica.
We’ve talked about what’s in standard right now, but what about what is to be? When is standard rotation for MTG going to be this year, and what is that going to look like? Thankfully WotC lets us know the basic schedule for set releases over the year, so we know what to look forward to and when (approximately).
For MTG, the next standard rotation will take place with the release of Zendikar Rising in Q4 of 2020, likely sometime in early October. Here’s the sets that make up standard in the next rotation:
|Set||Release Date||Set Symbol|
|Throne of Eldraine||October 4, 2019|
|Theros: Beyond Death||January 24, 2020|
|Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths||April 24, 2020|
|Core Set 2021||Q3 2020, likely July 2020|
|Zendikar Rising||Q4 2020, likely October 2020|
This means we’ll be losing Guilds of Ravnica, Ravnica Allegiance, War of the Spark and Core Set 2020.
Things of note for Core Set 2021 include a new design for the core set expansion symbol and the featured planeswalker, Teferi. For Zendikar Rising, it’ll be a return to the “adventure world” with no Eldrazi this time, so it’ll be interesting to see who/what the big bad ends up being.
As to Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, there have been hints of a new mechanic based around building your own creatures (take a look). I for one am very intrigued to see what this’ll turn into and what kind of impact the new mechanic will have on MTG as a whole, if any. Ikoria will be a brand-new world in MTG’s storyline, packed full of (assumingly) giant monsters, so I’m also very excited for this one.
Last year, standard rotation happened with the release of the Throne of Eldraine set in October, marking the 82nd MTG expansion. And then there’s what was lost to standard: the sets that were rotated out. Here’s what we recently lost in standard:
|Set||Release Date||Set Symbol|
|Core Set 2019||July 13, 2018|
|Dominaria||April 27, 2018|
|Rivals of Ixalan||January 19, 2018|
|Ixalan||September 29, 2017|
Now we come to the part where we talk about how standard rotation affects you and deck building. We won’t go into too much detail, but we will cover some of the basics that you should keep in mind.
First, let’s talk about deck building for standard in general. The first thing to know is that standard is a constructed format, meaning that you create a deck using standard-legal cards from your collection. Standard decks must be at least 60 cards, and although there is no specific maximum deck size, you have to be able to shuffle your deck in your hands without help. Beyond that there are only three restrictions on what you can have in your deck: no more than four copies of any one card save basic lands (unless specifically stated otherwise on the card, like Seven Dwarves), that they’re not banned in standard, and they’re part of a set currently in standard or an older reprint.
You also get a sideboard, which is an optional 15 cards that you can bring along with your deck. Between best-of-three (BO3) matches, you can swap cards from your sideboard into your main deck to better counter your opponent’s deck and strategy. This is a 1:1 trade, so your deck and sideboard must contain the same number of cards as they originally did (i.e., you can’t just add in cards from your sideboard without swapping cards out of your deck and vice versa).
That about covers the basics that you should know for standard deck building. But, what about managing your collections, whether digital or IRL—or both?
Confession time: I’m a card collector. And not even in the cool “I have copies of all these awesome and rare cards” way. It’s almost borderline hoarding, where I buy cheap packs of cards from the dollar store whenever I see them because I don’t care what I get I just want more cards. It’s a weird obsession, and I’m not sure what it is about Magic cards that seems to trigger this in me, because I’ve never collected anything else and I absolutely hate clutter.
That being said, I do know a thing or two about finance and trading, which comes in handy for managing your MTG collections. Selling and buying is part of the game for most players, so knowing when to buy new cards and sets and when to sell your old cards is crucial. We’ll touch on selling your paper cards first since there’s more moving parts, and then we’ll talk about managing your MTG Arena collection.
Right after rotation, most of the popular cards in standard would have already started to see their value go down. Their demand is mostly tied to their use and legality in standard, after all. There will be some exceptions, most notably cards that are prominent in Commander or Modern. Other things that affect the price of a card are reprints in new sets or being banned. The former because reprints means more of the card exists and so it’s easier to get a hold of, and the latter because if the card is banned then it can’t be used and so there isn’t much use in paying for it.
When the time comes to rotate, it’s best to sell your standard staples before rotation happens, but not right before. Prices don’t just drop overnight; they usually start to go down leading up to the rotation, so right before probably won’t net you the highest price. For cards that work in Commander or Modern, these sometimes see a small dip in price right around rotation, but usually rise back up to more than what they were valued at before. So, for Commander staples and Modern staples, it’s best to hold onto these and sell them after rotation instead of before.
For MTG Arena, managing your card collection is a lot simpler. You can’t sell your old cards and the only way to get specific cards is crafting them with Wildcards, which you can’t outright buy, so there’s no way to buy individual cards like you can in paper Magic. The sets and packs sold through the MTGA client by WotC are digital commodities and short of limited time offers there can be an infinite number sold, so supply and demand don’t really factor in as much.
When standard rotates, you’ll have to settle for using the cards in Historic.
The best way to manage your collection and keep your spending to a minimum is by participating in drafts and events to win free packs and cards to bolster your collection. You can also keep an eye out for discounts and premium bundles in the store that might offer a bunch of stuff for a cheaper total price than if you bought them individually. You can also get free cards and packs by redeeming the codes we have listed here.
Having been there myself years ago, I totally understand how overwhelming MTG can feel when you’re new. There’s so much to do, so much to look at, and so much to learn. It’s exciting, but also incredibly overwhelming when you don’t really know where to start. Well, not to worry:
A good place to start when it comes to paper MTG is some good old-fashioned pre-con decks that are ready to go for Friday Night Magic. There’s only so much reading you can do to learn about how to play, you really have to get in there and just give it a whirl. The first place to check out would be MTG’s Amazon page, especially their New to Magic? section. Take a look at their pre-con decks (I’m partial to the Rowan, Fearless Sparkmage planeswalker deck from the Throne of Eldraine set myself) and pick your poison.
We also have a big list of these decks over on our MTG Arena codes article, and the plus is that you get both paper cards and their MTGA versions if you grab these.
Not too long ago, we talked about things to keep in mind when trading in MTG Arena Wildcards in our All About Wildcards article, but we also mentioned some good sites to help choose a good deck. Well, here they are again for easy access: MTG Goldfish, MTG Arena, MTG Decks, and Aetherhub.
With all of that said, we’re about ready to wrap this up in a nice little bow and call it done. Standard rotation is a simple concept, but it has some pretty big impacts on standard play in MTG, both online and in paper Magic. There’s plenty of moving parts and lots to look forward to with new sets released every season. What are some of the things that you’re most looking forward to in Magic this year? Let us know in the comments below.
If you play standard and don’t yet have our free deck tracker for MTGA, Arena Tutor, what are you waiting for? It’s awesome and it will help you start winning more.
And don’t forget to bookmark this page and check back to keep up to date on every standard set and rotation, as we’ll be updating when we get new info and new sets come out.
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