The end is in sight. After this weekend in Washington, D.C. (where I’ll be playing my favorite flavor of aggro, Neapolitan Vehicles), it’ll be the complete and final end of Battle for Zendikar in Standard. After two full years, we’ll finally leave Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, the Eldrazi, Archangel Avacyn, and countless other big players in the dustbin of Modern, and we’ll welcome in the Pirates, Dinosaurs, and Treasures of the vaguely Mesoamerican plane of Ixalan. It’s a bittersweet time, leaving behind plenty of old friends, old enemies, and memories of Standard tournaments of years past. At the same time, there is new life waiting to peek out from under the shadows (over Innistrad) of the last Standard format.
Appropriately enough, as of this article’s writing, the most flavorful card of the set (by far) is the aptly named Star of Extinction. It all fits so perfectly, doesn’t it? The set takes names only perfunctorily changed from the real history of the Aztec and Maya (the Mesoamerican empires before any Europeans set foot in the New World). The real life impact that ended the Cretaceous Period and heralded the extinction of the dinosaurs occurred . . . in the Yucatan Peninsula (See this article on the Chicxulub crater for more information on the fascinating real-life Star of Extinction). Coincidence? I think not!
Ixalan is the Star of Extinction for no fewer than four Standard sets, a massive reduction only matched by the real-life reduction in biodiversity in the wake of the Chicxulub Impact. Like that extinction event, Ixalan will encourage new decks to rise to the top, with many of the former metagame predators destroyed by the loss of rotating staples. Ironically, though Chicxulub ended the dinosaurs’ one-hundred-seventy-million year reign on Planet Earth, Ixalan’s impact will actually bring dinosaurs into the Magic limelight for the first time. If it weren’t for Chicxulub, our own caveman ancestors would have been little more than appetizers for the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex, and if it weren’t for Ixalan, Regisaur Alpha might have been relegated to Regisaur Beta status. As it stands now, Ixalan’s Star of Standard Extinction will reshape Standard in numerous ways. Fortunately for those Magic metagame meteorologists out there, we can see this Comet Storm coming, and we can predict which are the hardiest predators likely to survive the extinction event, and which are likely to succumb. Let’s take a trip in a time machine 67 million years in the past (or a month and a half in the future, your choice!) and see what species reign supreme in Standard’s animal kingdom.
Zombies - DEAD
Well, technically Zombies are all already dead, but you know what I mean. As Game of Thrones taught us (no, not that “what is dead may never die”, that lesson is for another time!) the best way to kill the undead is with fire, and that is exactly what the Star of Extinction brings to the table. Goodbye Cryptbreaker, you were Pack Rat and Underworld Connections all in one card, and we didn’t respect you enough! Goodbye Relentless Dead, may you shamble off into casual decks everywhere. Goodbye Diregraf Colossus, and especially, goodbye Dark Salvation. The rest of the deck isn’t quite able to keep the band together after so many tough losses, and so it seems that the sun is setting once again on a top-tier Mono-Black deck in Standard. At least Zombies will always have victory at Pro Tour Amonkhet to look back on, when the walking dead gave Gerry Thompson a tremendous cherry on top of an illustrious Magic career (and over a now-banned broken Aetherworks Marvel deck, to boot!) For the rest of us, who are still on the lookout for glory and treasure in Ixalan, we will have to start looking elsewhere. Unfortunately, we won’t be driving to victory . . .
Mardu Vehicles - DEAD
With the losses of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Archangel Avacyn, Mardu loses two of its biggest flagships (not Skysovereign!) and marquee mythics. The biggest secret loss, however, is an innocuous detective who spends his life searching for clues and crewing Smuggler's Copters (and later Aethersphere Harvesters). Thraben Inspector gave Mardu a one-drop that brickwalled Red’s 1/1s with Haste, it gave an extra artifact for Toolcraft Exemplar and Unlicensed Disintegration that was hard for opponents to kill, and it even allowed Mardu a pesudo-Elvish Visionary in the mid and late-game. The loss of this one-drop is enough to justify the loss of white completely, as Toolcraft Exemplar alone is not nearly enough to pull the weight of his color in an aggro deck. Scrapheap Scrounger will have to go on in the Mono-Red (splash black) variant of Ramunap Red, and Unlicensed Disintegration may be on the outside looking in as well. Like Zombies, at least there will always be Pro Tour Aether Revolt, where Mardu Vehicles slaughtered an unsuspecting metagame that pundits predicted would be dominated by the now-banned Felidar Guardian.
B/G Constrictor - ALIVE
(though not the Delirium or Sylvan Advocate versions)
No, you can’t port Corey Baumeister’s Midrange deck into the new format, nor can you play Sam Pardee’s Grim Flayers and Traverse the Ulvenwalds. What you can do, though, is curve Winding Constrictor into Walking Ballista and slam Verdurous Gearhulks to your heart’s content. The losses of Grasp of Darkness and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet are upsetting, to be sure, but the gain of Vraska's Contempt might be enough to shore up the Mono-Red matchup. It’ll be Longtusk Cubs, Winding Constrictors, Glint-Sleeve Siphoners, and the like in Energy, but at least it will be easier to optimize the list with fewer distracting alternative two-drops. The loss of Hissing Quagmire, though, makes a secretly huge difference. A creature-dual-land is an unusual boon for a deck like Constrictor, and the loss of that insurance against mana flood and color screw doesn’t come along every day. The fact that Ixalan is bringing allied-color duals doesn’t bode well for the Snake strategies of the format, to be sure. Besides, when there are giant fanged reptiles with massive razor-sharp claws walking the plane, why settle for a reptile that has to crawl on the ground on its belly? I suppose if you want to see a Verdurous Gearhulk square off against a Carnage Tyrant, this is your opportunity to bring this fight to the feature match table at your next big Standard event.
U/R (or Grixis) Control - ALIVE
(but barely, at the bottom of the food chain)
Every time a giant, uncounterable, hexproof creature makes it through R&D, Shaheen Soorani has a small heart palpitation. Now, take a deck losing one of its best matchups (Zombies), remove the best dual land it could have hoped for (Wandering Fumarole), and add a creature to the format that singlehandedly beats the entire deck without any other work at all, and you have the recipe for a bottom-dweller of the new post-Ixalan metagame. Not only that, but Mono-Red is still a tough matchup no matter how you slice it. With basically every deck that survives the extinction event boasting a decent-to-good matchup against Torrential Gearhulk, this is one deck that won’t be winning any events at the start of the format, barring something crazy seeing print in Ixalan. Sorry Saito-san, sorry Shaheen, sorry Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh, but the icy grip of control is melting in the wake of the Star of Extinction. Might I suggest trying a combo deck if control isn’t going to cut the mustard?
God-Pharaoh’s Gift - ALIVE
Insolent Neonate is a sizable loss for the Jeskai version of this deck, and Thraben Inspector is a moderate loss for the straight build. At the same time, this deck boasts a sturdy matchup against the biggest predator of the post-Ixalan era (no prizes for guessing what that is!) Keep your Abrades in your holsters, folks. Turn-four 6/6 hasted Angel of Inventions are still going to beat Carnage Tyrants any day of the week. Be on the lookout for a solid White, Blue, or Red one-drop to put this deck right back in competition, and treat it like you would a Velociraptor. It preys on the unsuspecting, but like all carrion feeders, a true predator with the right tools can always come in and scare it off. Dispossess and Abrade are the best safety valves for the one-card combo deck, but ignore it at your own peril. Some folks just want to lose fast or win big, and God-Pharaoh's Gift delivers on that request.
Mono-Red Aggro - ALIVE
What does Sam Pardee’s Mono-Red list from GP Denver lose in the coming rotation? Falkenrath Gorger and Village Messenger, which can be replaced with Soul-Scar Mage and any other crappy Red one-drop that comes along in Ixalan. Incendiary Flow can almost certainly turn into a different random burn spell, including Hungry Flames or even maindeck copies of Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Don’t worry about Red, there’s a reasonable chance it just wins the first SCG event of the season (unless Wizards sees fit to print a Kor Firewalker-type card in the set, then all bets are off.) Red, like cockroaches or Twinkies, could survive a nuclear explosion, and a simple Standard rotation won’t keep it down now. Hazoret the Fervent is even better than it was before, as there are fewer Stasis Snares, Grasp of Darknesses, and Declaration in Stones to remove the powerful God. Vraska's Contempt is a hell of a card, but 4 mana is a lot to ask out of a simple removal spell. Hell, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is gone from the format, and that was one of the best ways to try to prey on Red. When the predators get killed by a massive meteor, the prey steps up to fill the gaps in the food chain, and that is exactly what could happen here with Red.
Like the legendary Allosaurus, Ramunap Red is a true terror. However, it’s not going to be the apex predator of the new format. There’s one deck that retains even more of its core than Red, and it happens to be the one that just won the last Grand Prix in Denver. If the real-world dinosaurs’ remains became fossil fuel, it seems somehow poetic that the best deck in the wake of Ixalan’s Star of Standard Extinction is fueled by (non-renewable!) Energy.
Temur Energy - ALIVE
Temur Energy ? Hour of Devastation Standard | Brad Nelson, Grand Prix Denver
- Creatures (24)
- 1 Rhonas the Indomitable
- 3 Glorybringer
- 4 Bristling Hydra
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Rogue Refiner
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Whirler Virtuoso
- Sorceries (4)
- 4 Attune with Aether
- Artifacts (2)
- 2 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
- Lands (22)
- 1 Island
- 2 Mountain
- 4 Forest
- 1 Game Trail
- 1 Lumbering Falls
- 2 Spirebluff Canal
- 3 Sheltered Thicket
- 4 Aether Hub
- 4 Botanical Sanctum
Eight cards in this deck leave, and only two in the maindeck: the easily-replaceable Lumbering Falls and Game Trail. Of the sideboard cards, four are mostly there to attack Zombies, which is (as we said before) dead and gone. Two are Tireless Tracker, a stellar green creature but not an irreplaceable one, as there is a big fat dino in this set that is salivating at the chance to sit down at the Torrential Gearhulk buffet. The deck gains Rootbound Crag if desired, Carnage Tyrant and Regisaur Alpha as giant midrange beefcakes, and any other solid beaters it wants to pick up. Temur is on the rise, as White and Black lose most of the cards that made them worth playing (Avacyn, Gideon, Thraben Inspector, and the Zombies cards). Energy is the premier Temur shell, and as such it’s going to be pretty damn difficult to see a way out for the rest of the species in the Standard animal kingdom.
It’s a story as old as time. Every era has an apex predator, from the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex of the Cretaceous to the mighty Temur Energy of 2017-2018 Standard. Respect the king, and you might just survive to witness the next extinction event. Ignore it, and your next big tournament will likely see you ending up as Thopter chow.