Five Rotation-Proof Decks

Magic’s Standard meta exists in an environment that is in annual flux. As new sets are introduced, older expansions are pushed out the back door. Standard rotation ensures the meta has a scheduled expiry, keeping things relatively fresh. Though many popular cards will soon vanish from the format, the decks they populated are not necessarily doomed to disappear.

Here are five rotation proof decks you can count on.

Izzet Phoenix

Izzet hit a sweet spot during the Ravnica block, scoring the Crackling Drake and Arclight Phoenix. These two new flyers complimented the Enigma Drake to assert aerial dominance over the opponent. Benefiting from a colour scheme that chained off impressive amounts of cheap, effective spells, Izzet Drakes was a deck that became ruthless in its various builds.

Though variants of the deck evolved during its presence in the popular meta, the idea was the same. Spam a series of affordable card draw spells to keep a healthy hand size, while spewing red fire to keep your opponent sweating it out. The Drakes grew with each Instant or Sorcery in the graveyard, snowballing your threatening armada of hungry flyers. It wasn’t uncommon to have a pair of 8/4 flyers on the board by turn 5 or 6, a death sentence for decks that were unprepared for that kind of firepower.

Whether playing up to a frightening Niv Mizzet, or simply banking on protecting the immense Drakes, the deck held down an alternate threat that could be summoned from the dead. While cycling cards with Tormenting Voice and Chart A Course, players were able to chuck the Arclight Phoenix, anticipating a future string of three cheap spells to let them loose. Death from above, and often times it was in short order.

OUT

Chart A Course
Opt
Lightning Strike
Spell Pierce
Dive Down
Enigma Drake
Tormenting Voice

It seems like the deck is taking a mighty hit moving into the new Standard block, particularly in the card drawing and discarding category. Without Tormenting Voice and Chart A Course, finding convenient ways of throwing aside your Arclight Phoenix’s will be a little more cumbersome. The loss of Dive Down and Spell Pierce similarly give survivability some trouble, as there are less easy ways to keep your Drakes alive, or tax your opponent’s removal spells. Saying goodbye to Opt also feels like a kick in the pills for a Drake player who needs to draw cards and chain off cheap spells to activate his buried Arclights.

STAYING

Crackling Drake
Niv-Mizzet, Parun
Shock
Pteramander
Negate
Arclight Phoenix
Lava Coil

The team is still alive and well, forming a solid base for those who still want to ride on the backs of these angry birds. With the goal being to pressure your opponent with Crackling Drakes and Pteramanders while filling the chamber with Arclight bullets, there still remains a good basis of cards to effectively (and cheaply!) string together the right combination of spells. Draw cards, keep the board clean, sweep in with the air force.

REPLACEMENTS

Radical Idea
Unsummon
Fry
Essence Capture
Infuriate
Anticipate
Spectral Sailor
Rix Maadi Reveler
Aether Gust
Disdainful Stroke

Finding suitable replacements may take another expansion or two to really fill the gap that Chart A Course and Opt will leave behind, however there are definitely options to do the job admirably. Spectral Sailor is a nice compliment with later game relevance, while Rix Maadi Reveler can fix the discard/cycling issue. Unsummon slots in beautifully, providing bargain removal, while Radical Idea and Anticipate can stand in for card draw requirements. Though less versatile, Aether Gust and Fry can be pleasant sideboard cards, while Disdainful Stroke and Essence Capture can affordably fizzle creatures that pose significant threats.

Though the deck hasn’t been soaring as high in recent months, it is certainly an option for those who want to keep the Phoenix Force alive.

Simic Flash

Simic Flash is a deck that really emerged with the release of M20. The deck obtained a substantial upgrade to the tool box, giving the archetype creatures that can win games rather than just surprise the unsuspecting. Equipped with a fearsome package of creatures, Simic Flash is only getting better.

A very surgical deck to play, Simic Flash operates on the other side of the coin. Benefitting from playing on your opponent;s turn, it takes intuition and timing to pilot the deck successfully. On the backs of the Brineborn Cutthroat and Nightpack Ambusher, the deck can grow wide and tall while eliminating threats before they can resolve. Backed up by loaded clip of counter magic, this deck will find narrow opportunities to sneak in creatures, while maintaining an open mana pool to disrupt opposing strategies.

OUT

Siren Stormtamer
Merfolk Trickster
Curious Obsession
Dive Down
Spell Pierce
Lookout’s Dispersal
Essence Scatter
Syncopate

When evaluating the list of what we are leaving behind, it really isn’t a cause for much concern. Siren Stormtamer could be one of the more painful of losses, as it was a great two-way card that was able to poke at life-totals as well as protect your more important creatures against removal attempts. The Merfolk Trickster had its key moments to shine as well, rushing in to nullify key triggered abilities, or to wipe away a sturdy defender.

A lot of the deck’s viability lies with being able to fit in creatures and spells around what your opponent is playing. As such, the cheaper counter magic like Spell Pierce and Lookout’s Dispersal will certainly leave a void. Being able to brush off an opponent’s turn three by dropping a Brineborn and a Spell Pierce was a devastating tempo swing that will need retuning.

Finally, Curious Obsession played the role of keeping your cards in vast supply. For a deck that looked to fizzle opposing spells until turn 4 or 5, having a Spectral Sailor equipped with Curious Obsession truly was a game changer. The loss of the card draw rhythm and aggression is a downshift the deck will definitely feel.

STAYS

Nightpack Ambusher
Brineborn Cutthroat
Frilled Mystic
Spectral Sailor
Negate

It may seem like a small set of cards, but they represent the fuel that keeps the engines lit. On the backs of those four flash creatures, you’re able to draw cards, pressure the long game, grow tall, and counter big spells. It is the lifeblood of what makes Simic Flash a viable deck in the meta. Should the deck receive no more flash creatures in Throne of Eldraine, it will still hold plenty of value and has high tier potential.

REPLACEMENTS

Unsummon
Disdainful Stroke
Essence Capture
Aether Gust
Veil of Summer
Pteramander
Sinister Sabotage

Losing effective counter spells is a pain, especially ones that came at such a low cost to cast. Disdainful Stroke and Essence Capture can fill the spot vacated by its predecessors, though their range is rather limited. The deck may need to shift gears from countering every spell to bouncing them after they’re paid for. It is a more dangerous line to rely on, however it can still get the job done. Unsummon and Aether Gust can keep the battlefield relatively clear while building on your own side.

With an arsenal of Instants, Pteramander could slot in nicely to provide creature support. By turn five there is an opportunity to adapt it into its more fearsome form. Though it may not provide the cover that the Siren Stormtamer once did at the same mana cost, it should be more valuable to you given there will be less counterspells to keep the board scarce.

With the stars of the deck continuing to shine post rotation, Simic Flash is a solid choice to hitch your wagon to. The core four will anchor the archetype deep into 2020.

Esper Control

The bane of the post WAR meta, Esper is a steadfast build with a variety of approaches to suit a player’s style or preference. Though the midrange/Hero builds have had a slew of success over the Spring and Summer that will continue onward, I’ll be focussing on the control side of Esper in this breakdown.

Esper’s colour scheme provides for an unsavory landscape for opponents. Rooted in destruction and obstruction, it packs enough oppression to float in even the most fluid of metas. Counterspells, board wipes, kill spells and a bus full of Planeswalkers create the nucleus of a deck that has the grind in mind, without a very straight-forward win condition.

Though the deck packs in a variety of control measures, its path to victory lies in the Planeswalker package providing a choking aura, while establishing a reliable draw mechanic. The deck doesn’t threaten the opposing life total all that much, but rather seeks to stretch out games while building up to Liliana, or an ultimate downtick on Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. You’ll rarely feel more uncomfortable with a decent life total than you will against Esper Control. Wave after wave of your threats are dismissed while they tickle their Planeswalkers on route to sealing the deal.

OUT

Cast Down
Moment of Craving
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Vraska’s Contempt
Ixalan’s Binding
Search For Azcanta

Honestly, when looking through the list of what this deck will be leaving behind, it was hard to find anything dearly significant beyond big Teferi. The main pieces of the deck seem to all be rooted in a powerful core of sweepers and Planeswalkers that will continue to chug along after rotation. The loss of big Teferi does sting a little, but it won’t leave a bruise.

The loss of cheap removal with Cast Down is worth noting, however. The Instant speed creature hate is fantastic for dealing with important threats posed early. Though its limitation of targeting non-Legendary creatures could sometimes be annoying to bear, it still manages to shred the likes of Hydroid Krasis, the Cavaliers, and pretty much every red creature you’re likely to see. The loss of Moment of Craving as an early game answer is really nothing to shed a tear about.

Rotation will also push out Search For Azcanta, which was a staple to the deck for a long while. The draw reliability it provided suited the archetype well, and the payoff later on was momentous. For a deck that liked to slow things down and take its sweet time to etch out a gritty win, this is a card that might be missed and difficult to replace.

Frankly, the loss of check lands may be most notable, though the Scry lands package is likely an improvement for this deck that isn’t stressed for tempo.

STAYS

Teferi, Time Raveler
Narset
Liliana
Kaya’s Wrath
Dovin’s Veto
Oath of Kaya
Command the Dreadhorde
The Elderspell
Despark
Thought Erasure

That is pretty much the abridged list. I know I’m missing about a dozen staples to the main deck and sideboard, but it is hard to pick and choose the multiple ways this deck can stomp on your hopes and dreams. I’ve selected many of the key elements that secure the deck in its spot as perennial contender, knowing that there is a sideboard of carnage waiting to swap in given the right situation.

Thought Erasure remains a constant irritation that can weed out problems before they can plant themselves on the board. This card will continue to incite rage well into the new year, and is supported by a couple copies of Duress in the sideboard for good measure.

Esper Control isn’t interested in seeing your strategy develop, and they’ll sanitize the battlefield to make sure everything stays rather empty. Mortify and Despark will stick around to eliminate a multitude of problems, while Kaya’s Wrath is the “Oh Sh*t” button when creature presence outpaces your spot removal.

Ultimately, it’ll come down to which Planeswalkers will step in to makes friends with the current Esper rockstars of Narset, Teferi and Liliana. While Teferi shuts down a major element to the game, Narset can fish for answers while choking off card draw, all while waiting for Liliana to pose the ultimate answer. Bouncing Oath of Kaya, and a clever use of The Elderspell or Command the Dreadhorde still remain viable ways to lock up a W.

REPLACEMENTS

Disfigure
Noxious Grasp
Ugin, The Ineffable
Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer
Legion’s End
Tyrant’s Scorn
Prison Realm

Picking feasible replacements was difficult, and not because there are some significant holes to plug moving into rotation. Rather, the deck enjoys an embarrassment of riches when it comes to answers. There are just so many ways for this deck to kill the board and eviscerate baddies. It is a ‘choose your poison’ scenario for those who can stay attuned to the climate of the meta.

Cards like Legion’s End have risen in stock sharply, given the devastation they bring to aggressive builds. Dubbing it a ‘possible’ replacement doesn’t do the card justice, but many still aren’t packing enough copies of this deck, let alone main-decking it. Along with Disfigure, it is a valuable option in the wake of some cheaper answers leaving Standard.

Still, with a plethora of removal, Esper’s concern isn’t so much about finding the right cards to play, but rather choosing the proper options given what meta they’re currently swimming in. The real question is filling the role that Teferi, Hero of Dominaria will be leaving. While Mu Yanling can be pesky and effective for pressure, she doesn’t quite take the reigns big T will drop upon his exit. Ugin, The Ineffable is up to the task, providing spot removal as well as an indirect card draw mechanic. They are big shoes to fill, but Ugin looks primed for the task.

Esper Control has a truckload of options to keep you gritting your teeth and cursing under your breath. The library of cards it takes with it into the new Standard block makes it a home run choice to invest in.

Bant Ramp

Sitting comfortably atop the meta is a beast of a deck that plows through their library with efficiency, while pressing incredible rates of tempo and ramp. Bant Ramp is currently laying waste to a variety of contenders, muscling through the ladder on the back of an army of mana dorks, and the prince of M20, the Risen Reef.

With twelve mana generating creatures, coupled with Risen Reef’s insatiable hunger to cycle your deck, Bant Ramp establishes an impressive board, while getting value off your lands with Nissa, Who Shakes The World. Without worrying about how to pay for your spells, the deck can really go free and clear about being greedy. With Teferi, Time Raveler keeping a watchful eye on the spells you cast, you can rest assured that you’ll be comfortably casting spells above your pay grade.

Bant Ramp provides more than just cheating out big cards. It also is able to recover from early game deficits with Hydroid Krasis replenishing your life and hand. Deputy of Detention is a hot flavor right now, so you’ll be getting some tasty treats with the popularity of Scapeshift. All in all, the deck is well positioned with the current meta climate.

OUT

Llanowar Elves
Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Entrancing Melody
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Lyra, Dawnbringer

All in all, the deck will come out of rotation without any significant scars. The soul of the deck is intact, as it will maintain a suitable engine to pump out lands, as well as using creatures to pay for spells.

The real dagger here is the loss of the iconic Llanowar Elves, a card that is as synonymous to Green as Lightning Bolt or Counterspell are to Red and Blue. Dropping the equivalent of a second land on turn one is as much of a power flex as you can make, and if it goes unanswered, you can follow up with a myriad of options. Reef is the preferred move, however playing Teferi into a bounce, or dropping another land into more ramp creatures can set the table for a turn three Cavalier or Nissa. The doors that open when your Llanowar is secured on turn one can dictate the fate of any game. Losing that first step on the ladder can create some strain for a deck that wants to put all their big purchases on credit.

For a deck that features blue and white, you’d be surprised to not see the Teferi brothers working their irritating song and dance in tandem. Shedding half of the duo upon rotation may feel like there’s a crater to fill, but it is quite the opposite. Bant Ramp has been leaning away from Big T as the decks evolved, pushing more for aggression and tempo than a slower, long-game strategy that he may reel in. Little T is more than capable of getting the job done.

The other elements this deck will be leaving behind won’t be impacting the main deck. Though a lot of the cards stretch behind several expansions, the rise of the deck has come on the back of the Risen Reef as a high octane accelerant. The sideboard goodies that will be left behind really only find their use in specific circumstances. Lyra and Shalai provide relief to decks flinging spells at your face, while Entrancing Melody found rare occasions to yoink a creature that is giving you grief. All of these cards had minimal impact, and won’t much be missed from the build.

STAYS

Teferi, Time Raveler
Nissa, Who Shakes The World
Hydroid Krasis
Risen Reef
Deputy of Detention
Leafkin Druid

The main pieces are intact, given that the hyperdrive was only installed with M20. Dropping your Llanowar Elves at the door of Standard rotation will certainly open up some create space for turn one, but really, it won’t be that bad. The dream of Llanowar into Reef will be gone, and the mana curve may feel a little awkward, but playing Reef on turn 3 with a Veil of Summer as protection isn’t so bad either.

Leafkin Druid will now be your main mana producing workhorse. Beefier than the Llanowar Elves, he can dodge Shock, and Lightning Strike will no longer be in the format. You’ll be free to profit off his capable hard work. Paired with the Risen Reef’s filthy chain of card draw and land access, this will keep the deck relevant, and in high gear.

With reef spitting out land, and your creatures chipping in mana, Nissa can make an early appearance to stretch your land and continue to pressure sluggish decks. Hydroid Krasis will have plenty of fuel to be a skyline terror under Nissa’s passive boost. The deck really leaps out of your hand, and into action at a blistering pace, and all the main players will survive the snap.

REPLACEMENTS

Paradise Druid
Trostani Discordant
Mass Manipulation
Cavalier of Thorns
Tamiyo, Collector of Tales

Since the deck isn’t dropping many staples or key pieces, the possible replacements digs more into cards of preference than necessity. Paradise Druid appears in its share of Bant Ramp decks already, but with Llanowar Elves waving goodbye (for now), they’ll be relied upon a lot more heavily, and become much more must-include.

With mana being abundant, Cavalier of Thorns can be a dependable creature to stonewall aggressors and sift through your deck. Providing a land drop and a Reef trigger is a delightful cherry on top, too, and main-decking this creature may be what fills up some of the slots that Llanowar opens up.

The option to include Tamiyo will depend on how you want to push for victory. Her passive ability protects your hand from manipulation, but hand-picking cards from the trash bin gives you an instant top-deck that can be the final nail in the coffin. The support of Trostani Discordant as sideboard spice also gives the deck added survivability and punch. With a resilient color scheme, Bant has many tools to endure any meta.

RDW

From the dawn of Magic, RDW has been a staple in the meta. There has never been a lack of Red burn spells or hasty creatures in any Standard pool to starve fans of the archetype out of playing the deck. The rules are simple: dump your hand and put the crosshairs firmly on the life total. It is how the elders of Magic did it, and there is no evidence that it’s going away.

With a clear-cut directive of smashing face, RDW harnesses the carnage of a relentless amount of burn spells and aggressive creatures. Throwing Lightning Strikes and Shocks, followed by swift swings with Ghitu Lavarunners and Fanatical Firebrands is a surefire way to make your opponent sweat. The core package has been quite settled for sometime, but rotation may shake the identity of Red aggro just a little bit.

OUT

Lightning Strike
Wizard’s Lightning
Ghitu Lavarunner
Viashino Pyromancer
Fanatical Firebrand
Goblin Chainwhirler
Rekindling Phoenix

At first glance it seems like the entire package is rotating out. A core part of what drives damage will not survive rotation, leaving a smoldering hole in what was a big part of Red’s burn capability. Both damage spells and pressuring creatures will get left behind.

Red’s mission to blow you out of the proverbial water takes the route of being able to lob damage through whatever creature defense you present. Lightning Strike and Wizard’s Lightning don’t care about your feelings, and are locked in to your face. Just on these two spells along, Red is dropping 24 points of direct damage at the gate, enough to win you any match. At Instant speed, and affordable to cast, these are mighty big bombs to have to leave behind.

On the creature side, format all-star Goblin Chainwhirler will retire into less-than-greener pastures. A card that was a terror against Llanowar and Reef types alike, it represented a treacherous force for likely defenders. It’ll be tough to replace the sheer brutality this card perpetrated. Viashino Pyro, Fanatical Firebrand and Ghitu Lavarunner fleshed out the remainder of the main package, able to sneak in damage despite their otherwise unintimidating statures. As a sideboard remedy, Rekindling Phoenix was an ace as sticking to the board and keeping Red players in those longer matches.

STAYS

Skewer The Critics
Light Up The Stage
Shock
Runaway Steamkin
Experimental Frenzy

At first glance it looks like the deck is getting severely gutted. Mainstays that put in a ton of work in the format will be leaving the picture. Without reliable burn spells, the deck may need to shift identity. Straying away from the fireworks of instant speed chaos, the deck may need to lean more on combos and swarm, than traditional value creatures.

The good news is that Steamkin and Experimental Frenzy will be sticking around. These two cards alone can make mono Red thrive into a new Standard block. Being able to rattle off a half dozen or more spells can flip a game on its ass, and recover the ground you may have lost in the process. The issue, however, lies in what those spells are.

With a healthy set of Steamkins pumping your Experimental Frenzy for all its worth, finding a winning scenario won’t be as clear cut. In the current build, you’d be able to dig as deep as you can, frantically firing off burn spell after burn spell, hasty creature after hasty creature, until your opponent taps out. With less options on the menu, it may need an additional piece for the puzzle to take shape.

REPLACEMENTS

Cavalcade of Calamity
Chandra’s Spitfire
Chandra, Acolyte of Flame
Scorch Spitter
Grim Initiate
Tin Street Dodger
Legion Warboss

Shifting gears for the deck seems likely, as there is less ammo to fire at your opponent. Cavalcade of Calamity can certainly keep the deck relevant and lethal. Relying on damage from the enchantments, rather than the Instants and Sorcery, does change the tune of the song, but it will still have a familiar melody.

Jamming in 1-strength creatures may seem like the easy way to approach the build, it utilizes units with resilience and haste, focussing on pushing through for as much pain as possible. Tin Street Dodger, Scorch Spitter and Grim Initiate all have usable abilities, and Chandra’s Spitfire can get really nasty, really quick.

Backed up by Chandra’s endless assault of doomed Elementals, Cavalcade decks look to bring the fire that RDW is leaving behind. Without knowing what new bag of tricks Red will get in the upcoming sets, it is fair to say that this will be a build that Red purists will lean on for quick, tormenting victories.

Flake

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