Now that all has been revealed and M10 is very suddenly legal for Standard the format is experiencing shocks far beyond those that come as the result of the introduction of a typical set. Perhaps more important than the cards that are in M10 are those that aren't since some major players in many of the top decks around are history. There are some new superstars out there like Baneslayer Angel and Lightning Bolt but the biggest impact on the format will be those cards that are no longer with us.
While it may not have been a major player in the main of many top Standard decks recently the most significant departure is absolutely Wrath of God. I can't say I'm terribly surprised. Wizards has gone to great lengths to promote creatures in recent years and Wrath has always served as a deterrent to lots of midrange creature decks. While Wrath may not have been as omnipresent in the current metagame as it has been in the past its mere existence warps deck design punishing decks for relying on mana or utility creatures and pushing decks toward the extremes of faster or fatter – that is decks that can get enough damage in before a Wrath to finish you off afterwards or decks that have hard-to-handle threats that can trump post-Wrath. The current environment with its armies of token decks is packed to the brim with the latter which has made Wrath much less impressive than it otherwise might be. Then again even token decks have tended to play Wrath in their sideboard so the loss of this classic sweeper may be felt more strongly than may seem apparent at first. The replacement for Wrath Planar Cleansing will be an interesting tool for control decks that deals with planeswalkers as well but six cost mass removal is not nearly of the same pedigree as Wrath as any number of predecessors have shown. While the clean sweep effect is certainly more powerful than Wrath in a vacuum the destruction of all nonland permanents makes it harder to break the symmetry of the effect. All told it's a major downgrade.
As an aside I think this push Wizards has made to promote creatures has been an excellent choice. Creatures are the basis of interaction in Magic. The only fundamental game rule interaction is that creatures can attack and block. The rest of the interaction comes at the card level – that is cards interact with each other when they explicitly say so. While the choices that come with card level interaction can be interesting because of the restrictions involved (Do you play Disenchant or Erase? Do you play Shatter or Pillage?) relying on card level interactions runs the risk of games in which players don't really do anything that impacts each other. The most prominent examples of this are combo-heavy formats which most players tend to point to as the nadirs of Magic's history. Magic is more fun when players interact with each other and creatures are the most basic way that happens. (As an aside to my aside planeswalkers have been a really elegant way to promote creatures because of the game rule level interaction they have with creatures in that they can be attacked and that creatures can block for them. Such a powerful class of cards having creatures as it greatest weakness and as the best way to protect it has also done wonders to ensure the importance of creatures!)
While Wrath may be gone leaving along with it are some of its greatest foils – the manlands. Treetop Village Faerie Conclave and Ghitu Encampment have all made waves in top Standard decks recently with the Green mana-producing member of the family clearly the most impactful of the group. Treetop and company have played an important role in giving decks that can afford the mana hiccup some extra value from their lands while also conveniently serving as threats that get around most mass removal. Green decks will feel the loss the most since Treetop Village was a central feature in almost every deck that could use it. Mass removal – or at least what remains of it with the loss of Wrath – will get that much more powerful since you'll be able to buy at least a turn free of attack damage when you clear the board. Planeswalkers will become at least marginally more powerful as well since you'll be able to safely play them on an empty board without instant removal backup to take out a manland that threatens to attack them. Gargoyle Castle the new manland is much more akin to Stalking Stones than Treetop Village and while I'm certain it will see play in control decks and perhaps monocolored beatdown decks trying to get extra value out of their extra mana sources it doesn't have the aggressive punch that Treetop and company could provide. I expect it to get more popular once the ultra high powered Lorwyn block rotates out but to be a general non-factor until then.
Perhaps the more significant lands to go are the painlands allied and enemy color alike. Players have been thoroughly spoiled the past few years by what has been possible to do with their mana. Between Vivid lands filter lands Reflecting Pool the tribal lands and both sets of painlands four and five color decks have been commonplace rather than the exception. While the new painless dual lands will replace the allied painlands for some decks for others the requirement to control a basic land or come into play tapped will be a huge blow. A deck like Doran which really wants to play a first turn Noble Hierarch but also has heavy mana requirements in other colors would much rather have Brushland than the new G/W dual and will certainly feel the loss of Llanowar Wastes. Thankfully for Doran at least Murmuring Bosk at least counts as a Forest to fulfill the requirement to put the dual into play untapped but the mana for decks that rely on off-color dual lands in general is going to get significantly worse. In particular green decks that want to play Noble Hierarch or Llanowar Elves on turn 1 are going to truly miss Brushland and G/W especially will no longer have the easy Hierarch-into-Spectral Procession draw. I imagine that aggressive decks in general will take more of a hit from the shift to the painless duals because they are more reliant on their early lands coming into play untapped – control decks have been quite content with Vivid lands so far and until Lorwyn block rotates out that's not terribly likely to change too much. Decks like W/B tokens and Kithkin splashing for Zealous Persecution aren't so lucky since they don't have any options to replace Caves of Koilos.
Speaking of tokens and Kithkin the replacement of Glorious Anthem with a new and improved Crusade for only your creatures is a strange one to evaluate. For Kithkin it's pretty clearly a big upgrade cutting a full mana off the cost for the same effect while for B/W Tokens it's nearly the same thing with the exception of your Bitterblossom tokens. I expect aggressive White decks to have a pretty significant surge in popularity between the new Crusade Savannah Lions and Harm's Way though R/W and B/W will suffer hits to their mana consistency and the former will lose some strength to the new combat rules as well (not to mention the loss of Mogg Fanatic even if he is weaker). Captain of the Watch adds yet another hard-to-handle threat to the token army though – it's worth noting that the tokens Elspeth makes are Soldiers as well so there may already be the makings of a powerful deck waiting for the new tribal lord. Kithkin is already a tight deck though so it's unclear if any of these powerful cards will even see play besides the new Crusade – it's doubtful that any Soldier deck will dethrone Kithkin before Lorwyn rotates out.
One card that I will certainly miss is Mind Stone. Mind Stone is a card that only really started to see serious play in the last year or so since Boat Brew became popular but in that time it caught on as a mana acceleration card for non-Green decks and even one that Green decks that didn't want to play mana creatures could appreciate. Of the popular decks in the format right now the loss of Mind Stone probably hurts Reveillark the most since the deck relies so heavily on four-mana spells. Then again the loss of Wrath of God may shake up the current Reveillark strategies even more and they may move back toward Knight of the White Orchid. With the increased cost of mass removal in the format and the loss of one of the best accelerators control decks will be further pressed to rely on direct removal and creatures to play defense – the loss of Windborn Muse is quite the blow.
Seismic Assault is among the fallen which will allow a lot of decks to lighten up on their sideboard cards against combo. While Cascade Swans has fallen out of favor since GP: Seattle where the Faerie menace and oodles of hate relegated it to the loser's bracket the mere existence of the deck had a huge impact on the Standard format. People may have been scared away from playing decks that were weak against Swans before but now those disruption-light decks can show up without fear of dying to an avalanche of lands thrown at their face.
The last few cards whose loss I think will make a significant impact on Standard aren't really format or deck defining but were major role players. Paladin en-Vec had really shown up as a powerful response to the Bloodbraid Elf Jund decks in the last few months and with those decks gaining Lightning Bolt and Duress I would have liked to have had the pro-Red pro-Black fellow as a potential fallback plan against them. Loxodon Warhammer was a popular sideboard singleton in Faeries decks to help race and while decks that can support the mana cost have Behemoth Sledge as a replacement the rest of the world looking for lifegain is going to miss the original hammer. Civic Wayfinder found its way into more decks than anyone might have originally suspected it would when it was printed both for its Elfness and its card advantage-providing draw-smoothing land search ability. With the loss of Llanowar Wastes that land fetching ability will be sorely missed by the G/B Elf decks that have been so popular lately. The Japanese must be in mourning already. Borderland Ranger is its replacement but it's not the proper creature type to put Gilt-Leaf Palace into play untapped which is an even bigger deal with Llanowar Wastes gone and nothing even attempting to replace it.
All told I think low-disruption beatdown decks made out the best from the cards leaving the base set. The departure of Wrath of God and Seismic Assault means a deck like Kithkin has much less to fear when it just throws men on the board and turns them sideways. Your most feared card rotating out plus cutting a mana from one of your best cards already and making the mana in so many other decks worse? All of these go a long way toward boosting a deck's performance. Cedric Phillips must be thrilled.
My bets for the top decks in the coming weeks will be Spectral Procession decks headlined by mono-White Kithkin followed by multicolor Cascade decks and Faeries. The big dark horse is the Elf Combo deck. With Wrath of God gone and B/W Tokens taking a big hit from the M10 losses – and Zealous Persecution dropping drastically in prominence as a result – the Elf deck would already be reasonably well positioned even if it hadn't gotten a huge boost in Elvish Archdruid. The Elf deck is extremely fast capable of explosive starts that even Volcanic Fallout and its ilk are too slow to stop – assuming they don't have a Forge Tender by that point anyway. I expect the stock of Infest to rise significantly to combat both the Elf deck and Kithkin packing Forge Tenders.
I know I'm looking for a deck that can consistently beat this field but so far I haven't found it. There's a lot of options for hate cards against all of these decks and some of them line up with multiple decks very well. Stillmoon Cavalier for instance may be a solid maindeck card if Faeries Kithkin and Cascade are the three most popular decks and it's on my short list of cards to try to fit in my decks if I can. And there's the little matter of Baneslayer Angel – that card is just begging for a home! I've got a little over a week to find one. We'll see if the Japanese are ahead of me this weekend like usual.
That's all for this week – until next time…