Rotation Grief: Core Set 2020, Part 1
- Gianluca Aicardi
The Standard rotation is upon us! Time to acknowledge the sudden disappearance from our decks of all the cards from the four rotating sets. We continue this journey of grief (or perhaps jubilation) by looking at the white, blue, and black cards Standard is going to lose when Core Set 2020 rotates out.
Core Set 2020 White Losses
Ajani, Strength of the Pride: The Pridemate factory was an essential support card for lifegain strategies. That kind of deck didn't conquer Standard's upper tiers the same way it did in contemporary Historic, mostly because Standard didn't have Soul Warden, but it was still a competent form of aggro, and this Ajani was kind of playable even in slightly less specialized shells. Grief Factor: 7/10.
Angel of Vitality: One form of lifegain that worked for a little while (roughly three months) was linked to Angel tribal. Angel of Vitality would supercharge the next card in this list, thus fulfilling the five-life quota needed to trigger Resplendent Angel. It was a nice little interaction, but then Throne of Eldraine released, rotation happened, and sadly Resplendent Angel had to leave her little sister behind. The extra starting life in Brawl made Angel of Vitality into a 4/4 for three, but for the rest, the card wasn't too amazing on its own. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Bishop of Wings: As noted, this was the main enabler for Resplendent Angel. The card also had a combo with Divine Visitation — any dead Angel would create a Spirit that would then become an Angel again. Add a sacrifice outlet, and you could get infinite life. Janky, but surprisingly consistent. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Brought Back: The implied power of this card didn't translate into actual, widely employed battle plans. There was the combo with Lotus Field, but it immediately felt too inconsistent to be competitive. Keeping up Brought Back to offset removal was a move that no serious deck was interested in. Grief Factor: 3/10.
Cavalier of Dawn: They weren't the Magic 2011 Titans, but the Cavaliers made for a successful cycle of almost uniformly powerful five-drops. Cavalier of Dawn was perhaps the least popular. Speaking in broad terms, the blue and red ones have been part of Jeskai Fires, the green one was often seen in ramp decks, and the black one was occasionally used in midrange Orzhov or Golgari builds. The comparatively lack of play for the white Cavalier isn't due to the 3/3 token it would offer as compensation for its removal effect, or the fact that its death trigger was the harder to exploit, as much as just because there wasn't an ideal home for triple-white midrange cards at any point during the fifteen months of its Standard tenure. This is not to say it was completely rejected, as it would still show up at times in rogue builds. Some players also liked how targeting one of the indestructible Gods on your side of the board would turn Cavalier of Dawn's trigger into a token maker. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Devout Decree: Core Set 2020 featured a cycle of old-fashioned color hosers, most of which earned a place in various sideboards. Devout Decree was a valuable weapon against Phoenixes, Chandras, and Lilianas, among other scary things. Grief Factor: 8/10.
Disenchant: A grizzled veteran from Alpha, still kind of relevant after all these years, at least in the sideboard of decks not running green. It's such a timeless classic, it'll probably be back sooner rather than later. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Gauntlets of Light: The only reason this card is known at all is because the untap ability created a very clunky infinite mana combo with creatures that tap for more than three mana — for example Faeburrow Elder plus a permanent with two other colors; or Incubation Druid plus Leyline of Abundance. It was of course an awfully casual affair, but infinite mana is always bound to make the news. Grief Factor: 3/10.
Gods Willing: A comeback from Theros, as the name makes abundantly clear. White decks needing to preserve a key creature would run Gods Willing during the period in between the rotation of Dauntless Bodyguard and the printing of Selfless Savior, but Feather was the most involved with this spell, because it lined up perfectly with its core strategy. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Hanged Executioner: Azorius Fliers and some Winota strategies entertained the use of this pair of flying dudes just for being a built-in two-for-one. Playing the Executioner as straightforward removal in decks that didn't particularly care for populating the board with fliers was too slow and clunky a proposition to take hold. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Impassioned Orator: A more expensive, much narrower Soul Warden that was also in Ravnica Allegiance, as they apparently thought the same Standard cycle needed it twice. But if a successful lifegain deck didn't emerge in the meta, it's partly because this guy wasn't good enough. Grief Factor: 2/10.
Leyline of Sanctity: A composite Leyline cycle was created matching three of those that had appeared in Magic 2011 with a couple of new ones. Sanctity was one of the returns, and it's usually a powerful card to drop for no cost before the beginning of the game, but it turned out this Standard didn't have too many broken effects that target the opponent, or even a proper Burn deck, so Leyline of Sanctity spent its Standard stay slumbering on the outskirts. But hey, at least it wasn't Leyline of Combustion. Grief Factor: 2/10.
Loyal Pegasus: This simple one-drop from Born of the Gods featured intensively in White Weenie decks, where it could always count on a companion to attack with on turn three. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Master Splicer: One of the Golem makers from New Phyrexia was randomly inducted into the contemporary Standard pool, although very few people noticed. It was too expensive for low-to-the-ground aggro decks, while Vannifar lists rarely extended to white, and the flicker decks that surfaced thanks to Yorion weren't focused on flooding the board with creature tokens. Grief Factor: 3/10.
Planar Cleansing: This Standard staple — debuted in Magic 2010, then reprinted back to back in Magic 2013 and Magic 2014 — is usually a welcome addition to any meta, as a reset button for control decks. It was mostly seen in sideboards. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Raise the Alarm: The bread and butter of go-wide decks. Originally from Mirrodin, it came back one first time in Magic 2015, so it seems like it may cyclically rejoin Standard, as a superior form of small token production. Grief Factor: 8/10.
Rule of Law: Another Mirrodin card, last seen thirteen years ago in Tenth Edition. It's possible this was a strategic reprint to increase the circulation, because as impactful a card as Rule of Law can be under the right circumstances, you need a very specific meta (mostly, a storm meta) for it to be widely useful. Grief Factor: 1/10.
Sephara, Sky's Blade: The heroine of its own archetype, a decidedly second-tier yet insanely popular Fliers build. Who wouldn't like to cheat out a larger-than-life Angel that makes everything indestructible as early as turn three? Grief Factor: 8/10.
Soulmender: Lifegain decks in this Standard cycle were at some point so sad that they would seriously run this old stinker from Magic 2014 and Magic 2015 just to trigger Ajani's Pridemate, once more reasonable enablers like Leonin Vanguard rotated out. Grief Factor: 1/10.
Starfield Mystic: "Enchantments matter" would be revealed as one of the few overarching themes of the subsequent Standard cycle, and this Cleric anticipated its coming by a few months. But even with Theros Beyond Death in full bloom, the Mystic wasn't as much in demand as one would have hoped. Grief Factor: 3/10.
Core Set 2020 Blue Losses
Aether Gust: Here's a measure of the overall power of red and green in this Standard era — the fact that this hoser spell kept appearing in the main deck of a large number of lists running blue. Remanding Nissa, Embercleave, and even Shifting Ceratops was just too critical. Simic Ramp mirror matches were often decided by an Aether Gust battle. Grief Factor: 8/10.
Agent of Treachery: One of the most powerful enter-the-battlefield triggers ever put on a creature. At first, one might think this is just a seven-mana Confiscate. But for one, the effect is irreversible. And most importantly, you can't flicker Confiscate to have it steal an additional target. You can't bounce it back to your hand with Teferi and recast it to that end. You can't clone it with Spark Double. You can't get it off of Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast. Agent of Treachery became a payoff for many ramp decks, later Thassa's favorite target, before culminating its shady career as Winota's and Lukka's main partner in crime. By then, the community's outcries for its banning were deafening – and, ultimately, heard. Grief Factor: 10/10.
Brineborn Cutthroat: A secondary finisher for Flash decks. The archetype was already flourishing before the arrival of Cutthroat, but it could use a few more creatures that played in the same tactical space, providing some backup to Nightpack Ambusher. Not all Simic lists chose to devote slots to this Merfolk, but alternative homes were later found in Izzet Flash and Dimir Flash. Grief Factor: 7/10.
Cavalier of Gales: Mostly yet not exclusively played as part of the line-up of Fires of Invention decks. In a vacuum, it was a large flier that came bearing the gift of a free Brainstorm, so a pretty good deal in general, and a safe inclusion in midrange and Elemental synergies decks. Grief Factor: 7/10.
Cloudkin Seer: Solid three-drop for Elemental decks. Self-replacing creatures are always welcome in any meta, and the Seer had a few other things going on, from being a flier to being, indeed, an Elemental. Tribalism aside, the double power makes it strictly better than Tome Raider from Throne of Eldraine, which will survive the Seer throughout next year. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Drawn from Dreams: A deep-digging, two-for-one card selector. Being cast at sorcery speed limited its diffusion to some extent. Its principal residence was within Fires of Invention builds, at least in their primitive form. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Dungeon Geists: A somewhat random reprint from Dark Ascension. There wasn't a viable Spirit tribal deck at any point during the Standard that's coming to an end, so this pseudo-removal on a flying stick didn't really see much play outside of Limited. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Flood of Tears: Briefly at the top of its game until combo partner Omniscience rotated out, Flood of Tears didn't find another deck where its services were needed. You don't just use a mass bouncer in lieu of a sweeper in control decks. But while its time in the sun lasted, it was a much feared card. Grief Factor: 7/10.
Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer: After regretfully missing War of the Spark, where only her pal Yanggu got a card, the beautiful Yanling debuted in premier form with Core Set 2020. Here she received the coveted honor of acting as the face of blue, a role traditionally reserved to Jace or, more recently, Teferi. Her new incarnation was not a bad card, but not very impactful either. Not being able to minus right away was the major flaw in her design. She struggled finding a deck where it would make sense to slot her into the three-mana area, especially with Narset, Parter of Veils as her direct competition for that spot. As a result, only a handful of dedicated Superfriends decks cared for running Yanling at all. Now Teferi's back and her time in the limelight is over. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Negate: This time-honored conditional counterspell is not in Core Set 2021, nor in any of the sets that we'll take with us into next year's Standard. It's such an entrenched card, though, reprinted so many times that it's hard to even remember where it appeared for the first time. (It was in Morningtide.) Expect to see it return to Standard any moment now. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Spectral Sailor: A very appealing one-drop with a number of relevant abilities, not last the opportunity to draw cards in the late game, after having chipped at the opponent's life total in the meanwhile, possibly carrying Curious Obsession into the red zone. It's been a building block of both Monoblue Tempo and Simic Flash, and a respected member of Azorius Fliers as well as sideboards. Grief Factor: 7/10.Tale's End: Admittedly, this counterspell was only really relevant in Brawl, as a way to stop opposing commanders for the smallest amount of mana. It was also Standard's resident Stifle, though barely anyone included it in a deck for that reason, except for the odd Lotus Field brew. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Unsummon: Once a fixture of all core sets, the oldest and simplest proactive trick in every blue mage's repertoire had been missing from Standard since Hour of Devastation. It's going to be back, eventually. Some kind of bounce spell — currently Stern Dismissal — is bound to be present in any given Standard environment. It's one of the fundamentals of the game. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Warden of Evos Isle: First designed for Magic 2014, it was one of the captains of Azorius Fliers, alongside Empyrean Eagle. A very specialized card, we can conflate it with Winged Words, as they were both played in the same deck, and nowhere else. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Core Set 2020 Black Losses
Blood for Bones: Standard can't really handle the speed of the Exhume and Reanimate, so casting Blood for Bones at four mana, rather than the five of your regular Rise Again, felt like a pretty good compromise. The sacrifice requirement could prove an issue at times, but it also synergized well with enablers like Stitcher's Supplier or Glowspore Shaman. This style of Reanimator, also featuring Connive // Concoct and Bond of Revival, wasn't a top deck by any stretch of the imagination, and it is probably going to be replicable to some extent in future Standard cycles. But it was popular and functional. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Bloodthirsty Aerialist: Before the time of Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, if lifegain synergies ever dipped into black, it would be to get access to this elegant Vampire acrobat right out of the Rakdos Circus of Horrors. It was essentially a flying Ajani's Pridemate. Grief Factor: 7/10.
Cavalier of Night: Of all the Cavaliers, the black one had the skill set that was theoretically easiest to put to good use. It combined creature removal, a sacrifice outlet, and a large lifelinking body with recursion of an early creature, up to a three-drop like, say, Midnight Reaper. The only limit lay in the actual demand for all of this for five mana in decks with a heavy black component, as the Cavalier cycle was the first explicit suggestion to go monocolored — something that would be emphasized by Throne of Eldraine. Cavalier of Night could have been more of a staple in a different Standard environment, but it was still a respected midrange play. Grief Factor: 8/10.
Disfigure: Cheap, efficient removal that dates all the way back to original Zendikar. Dead Weight (reprinted in Guilds of Ravnica and then also in Ikoria) would later steal some of its thunder due to the enchantment synergies in Theros Beyond Death. But operating at instant speed is always a plus. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Dread Presence: Highly appreciated in casual circles for its combination of flavor and function, Dread Presence wanted to be in a monoblack midrange deck that never actually materialized. From the point of view of the occasional monoblack aggro list, it was too slow. Dropped on turn four, it would apply to the board the same impact as a color-shifted Hill Giant. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Knight of the Ebon Legion: One of the best one-drops in Standard is leaving the building. Black aggro decks revered the card, Vampire decks used it as a spearhead, and Knight decks gave it probably its best competitive home. It will be hard to match the perfection of this design, which felt almost inconsequential early on, only to explode in the mid-game. Grief Factor: 9/10.
Legion's End: For the short period of time Field of the Dead was legal in Standard, this spell was the answer of choice to stop the Zombie apocalypse. Afterward, it became dormant, but remained a potentially useful tool to have around. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Leyline of the Void: This was the oldest of the returning Leylines, as it initially came out of Guildpact before joining an otherwise all-new cycle in Magic 2011. Its role of sideboard hate for graveyard shenanigans was straightforward. But throughout the cycle it had to compete with cheaper, more reliable colorless alternatives such as Grafdigger's Cage and Tormod's Crypt. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Noxious Grasp: The counterpart to Devout Decree, trading exiling for instant speed and scry for lifegain. A great answer to Nissa, Who Shakes the World and other assorted threats in black's enemy colors. Grief Factor: 8/10.
Rotting Regisaur: As the creature that packed the most bang for its buck during its tenure, the Regisaur was instantly adopted by Dinosaur decks, which relocated to Jund and briefly rose to the top of the metagame until Ixalan block rotated out. Later, it developed into a staple of many aggro decks featuring black, most notably Mardu and Rakdos Knights, where the sight of this dead T-Rex wielding Embercleave in its tiny hands became as common as it was hilarious. For its swan song, it wore Demonic Embrace. Grief Factor: 9/10.
Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord: Another card that enjoyed only three months of glory, after the previous Standard cycle culminated in the release of Core Set 2020. With the Ixalan Vampires still in the pool, Sorin was turned into the centerpiece of a highly successful deck where he could sacrifice Dusk Legion Zealot, boost Adanto Vanguard, and cheat into play Champion of Dusk. When that short era suddenly ended, the Vampire tribal team was left with not enough playables to function anymore, so Sorin spent the rest of its stay in deep hibernation. Pity he won't be around to greet the Zendikar Vampires. Grief Factor: 7/10.
Thought Distortion: A power play against control and some combo decks, potentially leaving them without hand and graveyard. Grief Factor: 3/10.
Yarok's Fenlurker: An improved Burglar Rat, provided you didn't care about the cost or about the opponent actually discarding — which you probably wouldn't. In fact, exiling was commonly a benefit, and the additional devotion helped sometimes. Widely played in Monoblack Devotion and Orzhov Midrange, both secondary players in the meta, but with enough credit to warrant a mention. Grief Factor: 7/10.
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