After an extended absence that dates way back to my early high school days, I got back into Magic: The Gathering casually when the Origins expansion came out in 2015. Following that, I started learning how to draft and how to build proper decks just in time for the release of Battle for Zendikar.
It’s easily the least popular set in recent memory, but thankfully, it was simple enough of a set to help newcomers get situated and returners find their way back into the game.
That’s all fine, but what blows my mind is that we’re still using this set! A change in Wizards of the Coast’s plans altered the rotation schedule, and somehow, nearly two years after I started playing Magic again, the same cards that taught how to play are still in Standard rotation. That’s crazy!
I felt a bit left out the last time we saw a Standard rotation because I wasn’t too familiar with the Tarkir block at the time. Since then, I’ve gone back to it and made some sweet cubes and Frontier decks using its cards, but I never got to play Standard with it.
Now that we have four sets I’m familiar with finally rotating out once Ixalan comes out on Sept. 29, I’m allowed to feel legitimately sad as I wave goodbye to my favorite cards. Battle for Zendikar, Oath of the Gatewatch, Shadows Over Innistrad, and Eldritch Moon helped me learn the game all over again, so there’s a bit of sentimentality here.
And keep in mind, these are not the BEST cards, just the ones I am sad to see rotate out. I have no problem saying “Goodbye” to Gideon or the tag-team of Reality Smasher and Thought-Knot Seer.
10. Kalastria Healer
My very first deck was built around this card. I drafted an Allies deck in Battle Fore Zendikar, and I drafted Drana, Liberator of Malakir, two Drana’s Emissary, a host of other quality allies like Firemantle Mage, and two of these fabulous little commons. I lost my first game but thanks to the life draining powers of Kalastria Healer, I went undefeated for the rest of the night. It was pretty slick.
After that, I filled out the deck with necessary allies and made a fun standard deck out of it.
9. Cliffhaven Vampire
Speaking of which, Oath of the Gatewatch only made that deck stronger with cards like Captain’s Claws, which created Ally tokens every turn, and more importantly, Cliffhaven Vampire.
This flying vampire fits the allies deck mana curve exceptionally well, blocks almost anything that is sent its way, and plays enough defense to let you whittle away opponent’s life while you gain it back faster than before.
This card was the perfect addition my deck needed, and my group even banned in from Two-Headed Giant. I won far more games than I should have with this deck, and while it will finally rotate out entirely, I’ll never take apart.
8. Duskwatch Recruiter
I’ve always liked this card, but I sadly never found a way to exploit it in Standard. Only briefly in the days of the Bant Company deck did it shine, but Duskwatch Recruiter never really rose to the challenge over the past year or so. Werewolves never became a force to be reckoned with either.
In a way, I’m kind of happy to see him rotate out. This seems like a card that is begging to be exploited in non-rotating formats like Modern. With Collected Company, Chords of Calling, and mana loops, this could be a new staple someday.
I’m sad to say I never used him properly in Standard, but I’m happy for this cards’ future.
7. Sylvan Advocate
Another solid Green creature that was totally reliable during its peak. It has been replaced in recent years with more powerful options coming out, but a 2/3 vigilance that becomes a 4/5 later in the game for just two mana means it’s relevant no matter when you play it. The bonus of making land creatures is equally awesome.
Sylvan Advocate’s reign was short, but at one point, it was the most played card in Standard. That has to count for something. Sadly, I don’t think it will make the cut in Modern.
6. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
This has been my favorite Planeswalker card since I got back into Magic. It fits better in Frontier formats thanks to Elvish Mystic allowing it to come down on turn 2, but even dropping this on turn 3 means you’re going to be ahead of your opponent. Creating creatures every turn for free while boosting her loyalty is excellent, and if they survive in the defense of Nissa, they can be pumped later if they survive
If your opponent is ahead of you on cards, she comes down and immediately makes all of your creatures stronger for just three mana. Not bad.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever used her ultimate, but I don’t care. Those first two abilities are just sick when exploited properly.
5. Bedlam Reveler
I feel like my time with this card has been far too short. I use it now in a sweet UR Control deck, and it goes very well with his buddies Cryptic Serpent and Enigma Drake. All three creatures have the ability to turn the game in your favor when they come down, and while they are not Torrential Gearhulks… they also aren’t $20 each.
Bedlam Reveler is one of my favorite cards since I got back into Magic. It comes down easily in a spells deck, it’s big, it gets bigger with battle tricks thanks to Prowess, and it fills your hand right back up after you play it, potentially triggering Madness cards in the process. What more do you want with a Red card?
4. Always Watching
Another card that has never really gone out of style. With Always Watching, every creature you own is stronger and you never have to tap when you attack. Alright, rock on! It’s the ultimate offensive and defensive enchantment, especially for a White Weenies deck or anything that enjoys going wide.
Recently, this card has been granted a whole new purpose in life with the introduction of Exert in Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation. By allowing Exert creatures not to attack, Always Watching could turn cards like Glory-Bound Initiate into 5/5 lifelinks and Gust Walker into 4/4 flyers on turn 3. That’s just incredibly dumb.
3. Tireless Tracker
More Green creatures, more +1/+1 counters. This card has been a force ever since it was released though. Tireless Tracker creates card advantage with its landfall clues (a sick combination), it beats down opponents pretty hard at 3/2 for three mana, and it only gets bigger if it’s not dealt with. Winding Constrictor helped secure this card a new role all over again when Aether Revolt came out, and now it sees play in Temur Energy, the most powerful deck in Standard, at least until Ixalan comes out.
Since I started playing, Standard has been plagued with cards since that have been dubbed “too powerful,” but this is one excellent card that manages to find a perfect balance. Never broken, always a solid option to turn to. Tireless Tracker could be the best all around card over the last two years.
2. Stormchaser Mage
Prowess has easily been my favorite “new” ability since I got back into Magic. They didn’t have this back in my day, and I’ve exploited it to plenty of wins. Stormchaser Mage has been my champion for quite a while, and even after Monastery Swiftspear and Abbot of Keral Keep rotated out, I’ve found plenty of ways to use him.
He’s currently sitting in the sideboard of my Enigma Drake deck, and I drop in a playset if I never need to get more aggressive. Professional players used him as a solid counter to Smuggler’s Copter back when it was legal, but sadly, he hasn’t seen much play since.
That’s fine. I use him a lot and will be really sad to see him go.
1. Thraben Inspector
The little common that could. At every turn, Thraben Inspector has shown us exactly how to design a good Magic card, one that stands on its own as a Standard staple, and one that fits into a lot of different themes. On its own, it comes down on turn 1, blocks smaller creatures well, and even creates card advantage with its Clue Token.
In other decks, it supplies an artifact for cards that gain bonuses of off them like Toolcraft Exemplar and Inventor’s Apprentice. It can power weaker vehicles, and it even played a large part in helping Smuggler’s Copter get banned. In White Weenies, it works very well with Thalia’s Lieutenant, Oketra’s Monument, and Always Watching. Like Sylvan Advocate, a 2/3 vigilance is never a card to scoff at, especially for one mana.
I’ve had a playset of these in play non-stop since it came out. He’s not the strongest card in Magic, but you’d be hard pressed to find a common that has overperformed the way Thraben Inspector has.
Just a few quick ones…
A sad victim of circumstance, overreaction, and appeasement politics. I agree with most of the bans that Wizards of the Coast issued over the last few years, but not Reflector Mage. This card is a little busted, but it’s hardly unbeatable.
Plus, I remember this was the first time I felt ahead of the curve against my friends. I won plenty of games off of this card back before anyone else realized how good it was. Oh… memories.
I apologize for the lack of Blue. I didn’t start toying with Blue until Kaladesh came out, and while I like the color even more in Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation, I never really played it in any of these rotating sets.
If I had a favorite Blue card, it would be Thing in the Ice. The card always feels great to flip, and I currently have it sitting with Stormchaser Mage in my Enigma Drake sideboard. Thing in the Ice has always seemed like a broken, lingering threat just waiting to dominate Standard, and while it never found a true home, it was also something that gamers always had to prepare for.
Awesome, awesome card, but I appreciate it more now since it was the last one I spent over $20 on. Since then, I’ve stuck to cheaper Magic cards since life and kids have started settling in around me.
All solid, all playable, all sadly rotating out. This is the end of an era for creature lands, and I’m sad to see each of these go.