Last updated on November 26, 2021
Wrenn and Seven | Illustration by Bram Sels
Love it or hate it, Standard rotates once a year. It can be difficult to navigate at the best of times. This year’s rotation is perhaps the biggest and most influential I’ve ever seen, as we’ll be seeing one of the most obnoxiously powerful sets in history leave the format.
I personally love rotations. A brand-new set with a newly rotated format provides deck brewers like me with the ideal environment to thrive and come up with new creations. But how will this rotation change our Standard environment? What do we lose, what are the biggest winners, and to what extent can we predict what the next Standard format will look like?
Let’s talk about that.
Good Mythical Morning
How Does the Rotation Work?
Join the Dance | Illustration by Raoul Vitale
Rotation may happen every year, but it can often confuse even veteran players thanks to recent changes. A quick explanation is definitely in order.
There are currently eight legal sets in our Standard format. In chronological order of release, they are:
- Throne of Eldraine
- Theros: Beyond Death
- Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths
- Core Set 2021
- Zendikar Rising
- Strixhaven: School of Mages
- D&D: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms
We’ll see the release of our next Standard set in September 2021, Innistrad: Midnight Hunt. The four oldest sets in Standard, from Throne of Eldraine to Core Set 2021, will leave the format at that point and we’ll be left with the five sets from Zendikar Rising forward.
It’s all well and good to say which sets are leaving, but what are the most influential cards leaving our format this year? There’s plenty more beyond what I’m about to cover, but here are some highlights.
Okay, so I lied a little when I said I’d just talk about cards. Throne of Eldraine is the most powerful Standard set we’ve had in a very long time. There’s no doubt in my mind (or probably anyone else’s, for that matter) that the biggest impact this rotation will have is the removal of ELD.
There are currently eight banned cards in Standard, and six of them are from Eldraine. On top of that, most of the best cards in Standard are from Eldraine. I’ve been playing Magic for a long time, and I’ve never seen such a huge mistake.
This rotation gets rid of all of these influential cards. The entire adventure package has dominated Standard in various forms for close to two years. Embercleave has made up the backbone of aggressive red decks since day one, and The Great Henge has been a staple build-around for green decks. Especially when Lovestruck Beast on turn 3 gives you access to Henge the following turn. Seeing the back of this set is by far the best thing we get out of this rotation.
It took a while for Emergent Ultimatum to gain traction, but all of a sudden it had some game-breaking options to fetch from the deck with the printing of Alrund’s Epiphany and Valki, God of Lies in Kaldheim. Sultai Ultimatum has been a consistently dominant force in the format since January as a result.
Another of WotC’s worst mistakes will be leaving the format. The ten companions of Ikoria have had varying amounts of success during their tenure, though we’ll mostly miss Yorion, Sky Nomad in lots of decks and Lurrus of the Dream-Den in Rogues.
The fact that the companions forced you to build your deck differently from how you normally would means that leaving the format makes a big impact on our deck building choices. No longer will we have to consider removing cards to fit Jegantha, the Wellspring in or whether it would be a good idea to go up 80 cards to make use of Yorion the Sky Noodle.
Despite the controversy over needing to functionally errata the companion rule because it was far too powerful, I really enjoyed using them. I will miss having them around in some ways, but them leaving is undoubtedly a good thing.
Standard formats have been made or broken by what mana fixing they have access to. This rotation, like all others, will reduce our options. We’re losing Fabled Passage, which fixed mana for a lot of decks, especially 80-card decks that had enough room for lots of basic lands. We’re also losing the Temples, which weren’t widely played but were certainly better to have around than to not.
The most painful loss to our mana bases is undoubtedly the cycle of Triomes from Ikoria. The Triomes were our first full cycle of rare tri-lands, and they made a huge impact on Standard. Not to mention showing up in formats all the way down to Modern. We aren’t left with a lot of mana fixing options post-rotation, so these are a huge blow for us.
The Rogues Package
Despite a lot of cards for this deck being from ZNR and surviving the rotation, three of its best cards are leaving us. Thieves’ Guild Enforcer was moved into Core Set 2021 for some reason, even though it has the exact same mechanics as the Zendikar rogues. But that’s not all!
Throne of Eldraine strikes again, and we’re losing Drown in the Loch and Into the Story, two cards that really make the deck tick. A 4-mana Opportunity and a 2-mana catch-all answer that are perfectly enabled by the Rogues’ milling plan. I doubt Rogues can survive the rotation without these cards, but they’ve had some boosts from the last couple of sets and you never know what’s coming.
We’ve been pretty spoiled for cheap removal in the past year, haven’t we? Both Heartless Act and Eliminate have been staples across every black deck in the format ever since they were printed in their respective sets. Seeing them go is a big loss for the format.
We’re left with Flunk and Power Word Kill as their more situational replacements. We do get a new kill spell in the form of Infernal Grasp in Innistrad, but the loss of life might prove to be a little prohibitive. Especially when Heartless Act already killed about 95% of the format’s creatures for no extra cost.
We’re losing a lot of impactful cards to this rotation, so what are we left with? Fortunately, we have had a lot of people playing the Standard 2022 format on MTG Arena to give us a bit of data to work with. So what kinds of decks survive this rotation? Which sets are the best to lean into for buying cards?
Goldspan Dragon | Illustration by Andrew Mar
Probably the best deck in Standard that entirely survives rotation would be Izzet Dragons. While the deck loses Bonecrusher Giant and Brazen Borrower, the one-two punch of Galazeth Prismari and Goldspan Dragon is a formidable win condition for any spell-based deck.
The rest of the deck is somewhat immaterial. It just needs the right balance of spells to deal with the metagame and you’re good to go. This has been an early frontrunner in the Standard 2022 meta and we already know that it’ll gain Consider and Play with Fire from Innistrad. It’s also worth pointing out that this has been the best home for Expressive Iteration and Alrund’s Epiphany so far, two of the most powerful cards in the upcoming metagame by far, so this is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Kazandu Mammoth | Illustration by Grzegorz Rutkowski
Mono green aggro has been a very hit-and-miss deck for some time now, but it seems enough stars have aligned for it to be a contender. While it lacks good 1-mana creatures, there are actively good 2 and 3-drops. Forgotten Realms has brought us Ranger Class and Werewolf Pack Leader. Being mono-colored in this new format also brings the benefit of being able to play snow basics and eight creature-lands thanks to Faceless Haven plus the rare lands in AFR.
Blizzard Brawl is a nice removal spell to have access to along with the aforementioned Faceless Haven. Losing The Great Henge is a big loss for the deck’s hope at winning longer games, so it may need to retool in the future if that’s a base that needs covered. That aside, this is a deck with a lot of potential moving forward and likely a good choice for the first week of the format.
Luminarch Aspirant | Illustration by Mads Ahm
We’ve seen some flavors of white aggro in Standard over the last few months, but there are some hurdles that it needs to jump over. For one, Bonecrusher Giant is the most influential card in the format and it does a lot of work against a deck full of 1- and 2-toughness creatures.
Luminarch Aspirant is one of the best cards for this deck, or even any deck that it’s in, and its stock very much goes up with Bonecrusher Giant gone from the format. There are some good humans in this deck too, which might even get a bonus from some human tribal support in the upcoming sets.
We know very little about the new Innistrad set so far, but there are still some details we can glean. We know that the set is going to be very similar to the design of the original Innistrad set from 2011. Ignoring the set’s incredible flavor, there are two primary themes behind the gameplay: horror monster tribal, and using the graveyard. The question we need to ask is whether or not these themes have the potential to thrive.
Draugr Necromancer | Illustration by David Rapoza
Zombies have been a personal favorite of mine. Two separate Innistrad blocks both attempted to make zombies work in Standard. Zombies didn’t work too well the first time. as they were missing 2-mana creatures to fill in the curve, with Highborn Ghoul being the best that could be found.
They received enough support the second time between the Shadows Over Innistrad block and Amonkhet, powering up the deck enough to even win a Pro Tour in the hands of Gerry Thompson. Will the third time be the charm?
We’ve already seen one spoiler from the set that would suggest that it may very well be. Champion of the Perished is an exceptionally good 1-drop like Champion of the Parish before it. Not only that, but we already have a couple of powerful options from the sets already in Standard.
We already have the makings of a decent deck. We’ve got Champion of the Perished with possibly Shambling Ghast and Dungeon Crawler as 1-drops. Wight is a very good 2-drop, and then Draugr Necromancer and Ebondeath, Dracolich at four. There’s even potential to use Narfi, Betrayer King in some capacity, either with snow mana and discarding or by splashing blue. Given that we have two sets potentially full of zombies, I think the future is bright for this archetype.
Sarulf, Realm Eater | Illustration by Chris Rahn
If you’ve checked out any of the media related to Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, it shouldn’t have escaped your attention that the set has a particularly heavy focus on werewolves. There’s only one werewolf currently legal in Standard, but it’s a great one.
Werewolf Pack Leader is an exceptional card and one that has made the mono green deck really come together in Standard 2022. Sarulf, Realm Eater and Ranger Class are also strong wolf cards, a type that’s often lumped in with werewolves, like on the Dark Ascension card Immerwolf.
All we have to go on is a couple of decent cards and the assurance that a whole lot of new cards are on the way. Simply put, given the strong focus on werewolves combined with how strong green already is going into the next format, it’s not a big leap to assume we’ll be seeing a good werewolves deck in Standard for the first time ever.
Skyclave Apparition | Illustration by Donato Giancola
There are some incredibly good spirits remaining in the format. We got big hits like Spell Queller and Mausoleum Wanderer last time we saw Innistrad that catapulted spirits into the forefront of competitive formats all the way down to Modern. Now we’re heading into another Innistrad block with some key pieces that could make some sort of spirit deck viable.
All we need is a good tribal payoff and we’ll be on the way to making the deck work. Either way, if you don’t own your playset of Skyclave Apparitions yet, I can’t imagine they’d go unused if you picked them up now. Even if we get no spirit support in the next two sets, the card will be exceptional in the format for other reasons.
Vampires and Humans
Twins of Maurer Estate | Illustration by Darek Zabrocki
These two tribes have a great deal of cards available right now. There are some nice standouts like Callous Bloodmage, which can hate on graveyards, and Luminarch Aspirant, which I’ve already talked about.
We don’t know if many vampires will appear in Midnight Hunt since they’ll be the main focus in the following set, Crimson Vow. There are plenty of humans, so it’s needless to say that any tribal payoffs may lead to some kind of deck becoming viable.
Orcus, Prince of Undeath | Illustration by Andrew Mar
Unfortunately, we lose all of Theros: Beyond Death’s escape cards, which are the biggest graveyard synergy cards in Standard. There are a few cards that stand out to me that may increase in value with more graveyard cards in the format that don’t currently see any play.
These are just a sampler of a few cards that may be worth looking at when we have more tools to fill our graveyards. Some are more interesting than others. Consider is our first hint that WotC definitely wants a graveyard deck to be viable in Standard.
Mountain (Innistrad: Midnight Hunt) | Illustration by Muhammad Firdaus
I really love Standard rotations. I haven’t bothered to play a game of Standard since well before Strixhaven was released, and I’m excited to jump back in with this one. This will also be a Standard format that’s potentially worth getting into again, because we may actually get to play this one in paper now that some elements of the pandemic are winding down and it should be safe for those of us who are vaccinated to play in person again. I’m excited to get my local community involved in this format and I hope you enjoy it too!
In the meantime, there’s always MTGA. If you’re using the digital platform to get your Magic needs in while you wait to safely play in person again, make sure you’ve got Arena Tutor to help you track your matches — we just released a beautiful new update.
Until next time, take care of yourselves and each other.
Editor’s note: Andrew has just published his complete set review of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt for Standard. Be sure to check out which new cards he thinks will have the greatest impact.