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Shadowed by Rotation

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Over the past few weeks, we have had previews trickling in, and while I do enjoy this part of the season as much as any other Magic player, we have not really given equal scope to what these new cards mean compared to the cards that will be leaving. The archetypes we know, such as Rally, are not just hurt by a new card from the set, but are neutered by losing the namesake card. This new rotation schedule is really looking to mix up the format, and from that, we will probably see cards I have talked about over the past two weeks—as well as many others—begin to shine. This smaller card pool, combined with the loss of easy-mode mana bases, will surely twist things up over the coming months, hopefully leaving us with enough wonder until the next set arrives this summer.

With this smaller format, it may take time to identify some of the hidden gems, but most of that is not relevant week one—no, instead, we need to be looking at the first few weeks to set the pace. As usual, we have a few strong themes to look at, both previously existing and Shadows over Innistrad–related. This is typically a good place to start. We also have a number of very powerful cards, such as Collected Company, potentially gathering some new tricks. For this week, I want to focus on some of these new toys, possibly identifying some cards from the new set that may be hidden gems and look at some of the decks I expect to make an early impact.

Ramp

Of all of the decks looking to gain the most ground from this rotation, Ramp is on the top of my short list. The deck loses next to nothing except a few bad matchups, and it instead gains a few new cards to try out. I am not sure on the exact color combination we will see in the end, but for now, I would expect the first iteration to look similar to what we have already seen and sticking to red and green.

While this does look a lot like the existing builds, I would want to try out either Ulvenwald Hydra or The Gitrog Monster in a shell like this to help you ramp while also applying pressure. The negative of losing Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is that your main stabilizer is now missing, a blow that may, in fact, hurt the deck more than appears now. If you are opening up to black—which is now easy enough thanks to the Rattleclaw Mystic replacement Deathcap Cultivator—The Gitrog Monster may slot perfectly into this build and additionally warrant looking into black further or even possibly dropping red all together. I believe a B/G ramp deck is primed with all of the cards, but it is not likely to make it out week one with so many people already comfortably sitting on a list similar to last season’s.

Collected Company

While this deck could really go anywhere, I would expect to see a heavy grave theme return, with Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector to combat any possible control decks we see early in the season and still low enough to the ground to keep up with the inevitable aggro onslaught. Luckily, not every deck is like Ramp. I expect Collected Company and most other decks that rise in the coming weeks to showcase new cards next to old making a real impact on the format together.

While this deck probably needs more focus, the shell and recursion should be enough to combat any sweeper control decks that arise to deal with the expected aggro. Delirium is a new concept that is going to take a great deal of testing, but the body and effect on Mindwrack Demon is just too good not to at least try. I am sure Collected Company will be made use of in a plethora of ways over the coming months; after all, Reflector Mage is still legal, and that card alone makes Bant look appealing. A list like this looks to use Collected Company to support a theme rather than just gain value like it did in Rally, and that may make it worse. But for now, this would be where I would start Sultai discard.

B/R Vampires

Any time there is a strong build-around mechanic that also pushes aggression, we usually see those decks rise to the top quickly. After all, they typically are easy to build and pilot early on while the rest of the format is figuring out which tools are best. Without control knowing what it is hunting the first few weeks, aggro typically has a great start to the season, and I expect this to be similar this rotation.

While there are various tools not included in this list, I feel this has a good mix of draw and discard to make sure you do not lose to a single, well-timed sweeper. This archetype has a real depth we typically do not see in prebuilt aggro decks and can scale to a midrange deck as well with relative ease. I am excited to see what this looks like week one against what the Pro Tour will provide for Vampire lovers. This is not even the most aggressive way to build this deck—cards like Alms to Veins can certainly slot well into a deck that gives up the card-draw in favor of pure speed, but I am not quite ready to push the deck that direction just yet.

ZOMBIES!!!

One of my favorite tribes is Zombies, not because they are soulless shells looking to provide the rest of Innistrad with the same restless sleep they have acquired, but because I love grave recursion. While we certainly do not have a Gravecrawler this time around, or a Geralf's Messenger for that matter, what we do have is a good shell for a midrange, tempo deck that can provide some real haymakers in the mid- to late game.

I am not as sold on Zombies as I am Vampires, but the shell is certainly strong. It just seems to be currently lacking either enough aggression or enough recursion. I expect Zombies to be playable, but probably not tier one right away. Instead, it will probably be a sleeper until Eldritch Moon; then, the dead will truly come out to play. Of all of the things these decks made me least happy about, it is just how good Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is in each of them. We are gaining a few additional ways to combat Jace, but it is looking dire for those who do not already own them to be able to play almost any grave-based deck.

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
Due to how high Jace is right now, I would not be surprised to see the early weeks dominated, at least in numbers, by decks like Ramp and Vampires that should have reasonable matchups against an untested field looking only to end the game as quick as possible.

There are a number of other lists I have been brewing with, most of which I hope to cover in the coming weeks, but as testing proceeds, I am sure some will look less and less viable. A few ideas I have right now include G/U Tempo Flash, using all of the flash creatures and counters Standard currently has to fly over your opponent with just enough disruption to hold that player off. I feel that this deck will struggle against the likes of Vampires, so I am waiting to see how big of a menace that deck will be before I proceed.

The real pet project—and one deck I will for sure cover next week—is W/B Demonic Pact. I talked about the shell for this deck last week, and since then, I have been awaiting the spoiler to see if enough resources are there. Though what I currently have is not what I expected when I began, I am hoping testing shows this deck has legs because, if nothing else, it is going to be a blast to play.

As always, thank you for reading, and enjoy your prerelease weekend. For the first time in some number of years, I will be planning to prerelease all weekend this time around, so I should have plenty of opportunity to not only play with the new cards, but also test the new Standard. Check back in next week as we break the format down a little further and see what a possible metagame breakdown will look like by Pro Tour time. I will also begin to look at the prices of cards as they settle a little, and I’ll begin to identify a few you may want to pick up before the big show!

Ryan Bushard

@CryppleCommand


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