Rotation Grief: Ixalan (Part 1)

The Standard Rotation looms closer with every passing day. How the meta will change at first is mostly going to be a direct consequence of the disappearance of the four rotating sets. Afte re-examining M19, it's now time to go all the way back to the beginning of this Standard era by looking at Ixalan, the almost two-year-old home of Dinosaurs, Merfolk, Pirates, and Vampires.

Ixalan White Losses

Adanto Vanguard Ixalan's Binding Legion's Landing

Adanto Vanguard: For the past two years, this though-as-nails, dino-slashing gal has been a fixture of white-based aggro, culminating in the tier-1 monowhite build that dominated Standard for a while earlier this year, before morphing into its final Orzhov Vampires iteration that's topping the tiers during the very last stretch of the current Standard cycle – thanks to Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord, whose first ability seems to have been designed with the Vanguard in mind. To say nothing of her presence as a supporting player in Feather, the Redeemed builds. We can certainly expect more white two-drops able to attack for three in the near future, but the Vanguard's unique brand of indestructibility on-demand was able to cause more than one headache to her opponents, and will be sorely missed. Grief Factor: 9/10

Demystify: It wasn't the most popular sideboard option available to white mages, but with its departure we lose the chance to kill an enchantment for one mana at instant speed, so there's that. Grief Factor: 3/10

Ixalan's Binding: White is bound to have one or more Oblivion Ring variants within any given Standard meta, and next year we can still count on Conclave Tribunal and Prison Realm doing their jobs. But there was something extremely powerful in the Binding's absolute hate for its targets, which could end up stranding cards in the opponent's hand for the duration of a game. Plus, with that name and flavor, we can be sure this really is a final goodbye for Ixalan's Binding in Standard (not even a "return to Ixalan" set could bring it back, since it references a story point that's been solved). Grief Factor: 8/10

Legion's Landing / Adanto, the First Fort: Here's another key element of both Monowhite Aggro and Orzhov Vampires, as one of their better one-drops that, once successfully transformed, would double as a reliable source of board advantage in the mid- to late-game. Both archetypes that ran Legion's Landing won't survive rotation in a recognizable form, but this treasure trove of endless aggression, stalling and lifegaining is one that would be very hard to replace regardless. Grief Factor: 8/10

Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle: A solid member of Team Vampire, if never a major player in his own right. His body wasn't impactful enough for a three-drop, and he would require an already favorable board state to function optimally, but the influx of lifegaining tokens definitely had value, particularly as fuel for Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord's sacrifice ability. Grief Factor: 7/10

Settle the Wreckage: There's was a time during its tenure in Standard when Settle the Wreckage was everyone's board sweeper of choice. Then other four-mana options came out (mostly, Kaya's Wrath) that could be more proactive, could affect creatures that weren't likely to attack, wouldn't require conspicuously leaving mana open, couldn't be played around as easily, and wouldn't ramp the opponent. It also wouldn't be stopped dead by Shalai, Voice of Plenty or countered by Siren Stormtamer. Still, all of these quirks are part of what made Settle the Wreckage such an innovative take on the art of sweeping, able as it was to catch an unaware opponent by surprise, never sacrificing your own creatures in the deal, and sending everything to the exile zone (in virtue of some zany flavor where you repair a wrecked ship so everyone can go home? And they stop attacking you out of gratitude? I guess?). Grief Factor: 7/10

Tocatli Honor Guard: By now, this guy has branched out into eternal formats where concerns about ETB triggers are even more prominent than they have ever been in Ixalan Standard. Albeit losing this hoser almost concurrently with the advent of Risen Reef and Yarok, the Desecrated is not very good timing. Grief Factor: 6/10

Ixalan Blue Losses

Chart of Course Search for Azcanta Spell Pierce

Arcane Adaptation: All right, this one never even remotely generated any serious-minded list, being mostly a madcap inspiration for the jankiest of brews. But I bet someone will miss the chance to mess with creature types, to occasionally explosive results. Grief Factor: 1/10

Chart a Course: This card would have been excellent just as a discounted Divination for creature decks, but it also doubled as an enabler for reanimator and other graveyard strategies. Arclight Phoenix is about to lose one of its most reliable partners in crime. Grief Factor: 10/10

Deeproot Waters: Merfolk is certainly an evergreen tribe, as virtually every Magic format hosts one of its iterations, but its most recent success story in Standard was entirely based on Ixalan block, so the odds of them staying afloat into next year aren't good. Cards like this enchantment played amazingly into the linear, "go-wide" approach of the deck, which was only briefly a top-tier contender but constantly a fan favorite. Grief Factor: 6/10

Dive Down: No other deck but Monoblue Tempo cared too much about this protection spell, but it certainly saved the butt of many Salamanders, Sirens and Djinns. Not anymore! Grief Factor: 6/10

Entrancing Melody: A wider specialist, the end of this particular Melody leaves Nissa, Who Shakes the World decks with only Mass Manipulation as a way to get rid of (and repurpose) opposing creatures (it might be enough, though Melody was a good sideboard option for those matchups where the Manipulation route was too slow and/or unnecessary); but it also affects several other sideboards with access to blue, including Temur Elementals, Simic Flash, Izzet Phoenix and even Monoblue Tempo. After all, it didn't require a ton of mana to do its trick, as stealing Hydroid Krasis, for instance, would never cost more than four. Grief Factor: 7/10

Favorable Winds: This reprint from Avacyn Restored only now had found a good home in Sephara, Sky's Blade-helmed "Flying Matters" decks. If it's any consolation, its name is generic enough and its effect broad enough to warrant further reprints. Grief Factor: 5/10

Jace, Cunning Castaway: Another card that existed just for the memes, "Sexy Pirate Jace" never partook in any major archetype, but his duplication ultimate was fun, and Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God was able to steal it and almost immediately use it on himself – hence the memes. Grief Factor: 2/10

Lookout's Dispersal: Pirate was probably the least successful of the Ixalan tribes, and only the printing of Spectral Sailor and Brineborn Cutthroat in Core Set 2020 has really made this counterspell any good, leading to its occasional inclusion in the reworked Monoblue Tempo archetype, alongside the tried and true Siren Stormtamer. Grief Factor: 4/10

Opt: There were two different versions of Opt in Standard, the other coming out of Dominaria. Both are rotating out, but this simple cantrip and card selection tool has become such an iconic spell in blue that we should expect to see it back sooner rather than later – after all, it took seventeen years to see its first reprint after Invasion, then just seven months for the second one. Grief Factor: 9/10

Overflowing Insight: This larger-than-life card-drawing spell (positioned at the other side of the spectrum from Opt) didn't frequently see play, but there have been instances of flamboyant combos (cough Omniscience cough) where the Insight could be cast for free, whereas other massive card-drawing spells with X in their cost, like Finale of Revelation, wouldn't work at all in the same spot. Grief Factor: 3/10

Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin: One of the pillars of Esper Control, Simic Nexus and all blue-based control and combo strategies in general. Life was easy for that kind of decks when they could count on a two-drop that would aptly sculpt their successive draws then turn into a nearly insurmountable advantage factory. There will never be something quite like Search for Azcanta – and maybe it's for the better. Grief Factor: 10/10

Siren Stormtamer: Along with Dive Down, this guy was Monoblue Tempo's main safety system, able to stop a variety of threats, and not just those targeted at one of the other creatures in his team – Settle the Wreckage and Thought Erasure come to mind. Plus, he was often animated by a Curious Obsession. Grief Factor: 8/10

Spell Pierce: It's a bit strange to think this was only the second Standard passage of Spell Pierce after its debut in Zendikar almost ten years ago. Control and tempo decks will miss the access to this at times crucial early interaction, but we can maintain hope to borrow it from the eternal formats again one day. Grief Factor: 9/10

Ixalan Black Losses

Arguel's Blood Fast Sanctum Seeker Vraska's Contempt

Arguel's Blood Fast / Temple of Aclazotz: This one showed up, often as a one-of, in many sideboards, as a way to draw multiple cards per turn for a reasonable price and through a permanent that wasn't too easy to remove. I honestly believe it was featured more than it was actually brought in from those sideboards (considering how bad it was against two kings of the meta like monored and monowhite aggro), and I'd like to know how many times it actually transformed, and how relevant that transformation turned out to be. Still, it was part of the meta, if on the fringes, so it certainly deserved a mention. Grief Factor: 4/10

Kitesail Freebooter: One of the few Pirates that transcended their tribal roots, providing some disruption while also hitting for a modicum of flying damage. After the release of Thought Erasure in Guilds of Ravnica, she gradually lost steam, despite finding a welcoming home in five-color Humans builds in Modern. Grief Factor: 5/10

Sanctum Seeker: One of the scariest midrange Vampires, she was pushed into even higher relevance by the introduction of Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord, whose third ability infused a whole new life to the best four- and five-drops vamps. Too bad this reign of lifedraining terror wasn't destined to last long. Grief Factor: 8/10

Seekers' Squire: The third most played explore creature after Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger. Being the third seems like a good thing, but it also meant she actually was the first to get cut when the explore package established itself as an inter-archetype traveling act composed by twelve slots only, the remaining ones going of course to Wildgrowth Walker. The Squire had some merits, though, as a more resilient and defense-oriented Branchwalker, in a nice subversion of expectations for a black creature compared to a green one. Grief Factor: 5/10

Vicious Conquistador: Yet another cog in the Vampire war machine that's going away, this time in the form of a one-drop with higher damage potential than its stats show. The Conquistador's exit leaves Knight of the Ebon Legion to do the heavy lifting alone, surrounded by the ruins of an archetype that will have to pick up some valid new members in 2020 in order to rebuild itself, as Throne of Eldraine doesn't look like the right place for new Vampires to pop up. Grief Factor: 8/10

Vraska's Contempt: One of the best pieces of removal to ever grace Standard is no more. At four mana, it sure wasn't the nimblest way to answer threats, but it was very flexible and very final, with the added bonus of getting some life back. There has never been a moment in these two years when this spell wasn't played at the highest competitive levels to some extent. But this might not be its last farewell, since Vraska won't stop to feel contempt for her enemies anytime soon, even now that Jace is her boyfriend. Grief Factor: 9/10

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

Rotation Grief Archive

  1. M19 (white, blue and black)
  2. M19 (red, green, multicolored and colorless)


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