We're right in the middle of Core Set 2019 preview season, and this set already looks to be another big hit right after Dominaria , which was one of the most well-received sets of the last half decade. We've already seen reprints of fan-favorites, new planeswalkers, and plenty of Dragons.
Today it's back to the classroom for me, where I was previously a high school teacher for eight years, with the new cards from #MTGM19 being the assignments to be graded. I'll be focusing on the impact I'm predicting the cards will have on Constructed formats, particularly Standard, but I'll also consider other impacts the card may have. I'll be taking everything in consideration to give a letter grade using the traditional A through F system. Without further ado, let's get to this preliminary Core Set 2019 report card!
There's no better way to start than with the biggest, baddest enemy of the multiverse, Nicol Bolas. There's a lot to break down here with Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, which as a four mana 4/4 flyer is already close to passing the bar to be Standard playable, but that's not close to being all Nicol Bolas, the Ravager has to offer. This looks to be the flagship card of the set and therefore, will be the one I'll discuss the most.
" When Nicol Bolas, the Ravager enters the battlefield, each opponent discards a card."
This first sentence on the card has been the most overlooked in my opinion, and I believe it to be incredibly strong. When you play a 4/4 flyer, your opponent is under pressure to deal with it before it kills them, which doesn't usually take too long. Having to discard a card as well simply increases that pressure, which makes other follow up threats even better. It's much more difficult to have enough answers for your opponent's threats, or your own threats to keep up, when you have to discard a card as soon as your opponent plays one of theirs.
Enter the battlefield effects are particularly strong in the Grixis colors as there are many efficient ways to reanimate creatures with The Eldest Reborn, Liliana, Death's Majesty, and The Scarab God. Unfortunately, if you use The Scarab God, you won't be able to use the last ability as you'll only have a token that's a copy of the front side and therefore, can't transform. However, the curve into Liliana, Death's Majesty following a Nicol Bolas, the Ravager that was killed is particularly appealing, as you can reanimate Nicol Bolas right away to get another discard trigger.
Even simply playing a turn four Nicol Bolas into another on turn five, assuming there was a removal spell for the first, at a minimum gives you a free Mind Rot that will be difficult for opponents to overcome. There will be times when you draw a Nicol Bolas, the Ravager in the late game and your opponent doesn't have any cards left in their hand to discard, but in that scenario you shouldn't be worried about the Elder Dragon finishing the game off.
I would be very happy playing a four mana 4/4 flyer with that enters the battlefield ability, but the reason why Nicol Bolas is going to be a Standard all-star is because of the final ability, which basically reads "4UBR: Win the game."
It's hard to imagine a battlefield where Nicol Bolas, the Arisen doesn't pull you incredibly far ahead when you transform into it. It has card draw, removal, and can produce more impactful threats while starting at a very high loyalty. Then there's the -12 ability, which ends the game in two turns if, for some reason, you haven't put it away yet with all the extra cards from the +2.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is a perfectly fine creature for Standard play on its own, and having the ability to transform into Nicol Bolas, the Arisen gives this card the upside to be one of the absolute best in Standard.
I wasn't too impressed with Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants when I first read the card, but I've been warming up to it recently. The +1 ability looked weak to me before, but the more I think about it, the more I appreciate it. Ross Merriam wrote earlier in the week how well it pairs with History of Benalia and I'm also excited to play it in a G/W shell with Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger. The problem with those two cards are that often times their power and toughness aren't large enough to be impactful enough, but Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants can help make sure that isn't the case.
Unfortunately, Standard isn't filled with many powerful two-drops that want to take advantage of the -2 ability, but that can still be built around. As far as Modern goes, I could see Counters Company taking advantage of the -2 ability to return Devoted Druid, Vizier of Remedies, or Duskwatch Recruiter back to the battlefield. The +1 ability can also turn the weak creatures in that deck into formidable attackers, as well as reset a Kitchen Finks with a persist counter. Overall, this looks to be a solid planeswalker that will find its niche in the Constructed formats.
The bar for a five mana planeswalker is incredibly high, but I believe Vivien Reid passes it. We've seen how good Vraska, Relic Seeker is in Standard with having a minus ability that destroys artifacts and enchantments, and Vivien Reid can do the same thing. Only destroying a creature with flying is obviously a downgrade from any creature, but you can expect a downgrade in a card that has a lower converted mana cost and is only one color instead of two. Still, having a Naturalize/Plummet hybrid ability on a green planeswalker is certainly welcome.
The +1 ability is more difficult to judge. Sure it's a good source of both card advantage and selection, but you're only able to select creatures and lands. This is basically the exact opposite of activating Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. Usually card selection abilities are best served for interactive spells since finding the specific one you need is valuable, whereas creatures are generally interchangeable. With that said, I do believe the +1 ability will be good enough to make Vivien Reid a solid role player in Standard, and I could see it replacing Nissa, Vital Force in many green decks, thanks to the card selection and removal.
I know everyone's excited for Angel tribal after seeing this card, but I'm not sold. There's several three damage burn spells being played in Standard, and I'm worried Resplendent Angel won't make the cut as a 3/3 for three. If it does, though, it will be on the back of Lyra Dawnbringer, which conveniently gains five life when it gets into combat, fulfilling Resplendent Angel's first clause.
Lyra Dawnbringer also turns Resplendent Angel into a 4/4, and therefore the best time to actually play Resplendent Angel may not be on the third turn, but instead on turn six when you're attacking with Lyra Dawnbringer. So even though I'm not sold on Resplendent Angel as a three-drop for Standard yet, it does fill a hole on the curve of white midrange decks ahead of Shalai, Voice of Plenty and Lyra Dawnbringer.
These two cards are both wonderful reprints for Commander players, and I'm really glad to see them here even though they won't have much, if any, Standard application. We already have a Crucible of Worlds variant, Ramunap Excavator, which unfortunately doesn't see much (if any) Standard play at the moment, and I don't expect Crucible of Worlds to see any more. Omniscience is simply too expensive without having any realistic ways to get it on to the battlefield for cheap. Despite that, I still love both of these reprints for the Commander players who have needed them.
Crucible of Worlds Grade: A
Omniscience Grade: B
Just like with the previous two cards, Scapeshift is being reprinted to help ease the demand from Modern and Commander, and is most likely not intended to impact Standard. However, this mythic with beautiful art may actually see some play.
Having a Tatyova, Benthic Druid on the battlefield when you cast Scapeshift is better than casting a Sphinx's Revelation, and therefore, I could realistically see this combination being part of a big mana deck. You not only get to replace all of your lands with the best lands in your deck, but then for each land, you gain a life and draw a card. The cards you draw should also be a high percentage of non-lands, considering you just put a bunch of lands onto the battlefield from your library.
There's also The Mending of Dominaria, which can return the lands you sacrificed to give you a substantial mana advantage which you can use to cast all of the extra cards or a finisher like Sylvan Awakening. Will these cards combine together to make a deck in Standard? The odds aren't likely, but there's certainly potential here with the mix of power and synergy these cards offer. It's certainly something to keep an eye out for when rotation happens in the fall and Standard naturally powers down by having less sets.
Not only was Scapeshift a good card to reprint for other Constructed formats, but I also believe it has potential to see more Standard play than people are talking about right now. It was a great option to reprint.
We've seen many control mirror-breakers over the years, but there's certainly more buzz around Chromium, the Mutable, and for good reason. Flash, flying, can't be countered, and the ability to gain hexproof on one card makes it incredibly hard for reactive decks to deal with and should take over the game as soon as it's cast. Thankfully, it also costs seven mana and isn't necessarily effective against the aggressive strategies of the format, and that's exactly what I want from my control mirror-breakers. I'm also glad that it doesn't survive the mass removal of the format like Fumigate or Settle the Wreckage and therefore, playing an answer for it in control mirrors is still reasonable.
Having hexproof for a moment is certainly nice as that means you know your six-drop won't die to a Ravenous Chupacabra until you've at least dealt damage with it once, but Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner is lacking compared to the other Elder Dragons. Flying, vigilance, and trample aren't abilities that are good enough for a six mana card in Standard these days.
Vaevictic Asmadi, the Dire has an incredibly interesting ability when it attacks. Besides the more obvious upside of getting rid of hard to deal with permanents from your opponent, you do need to actually choose targets for each player when it attacks, which can be a downside. If there's nothing else on the battlefield you may sacrifice your own land for no gain and then turn your opponent's land into a threat. Having an attack trigger that may actually hurt you, as well as being simply a 6/6 for six mana with no protection or immediate battlefield impact, means Vaevictic Asmadi isn't a card I'm excited to sleeve up for Standard.
I'll have to say that Brennan DeCandio is a much bigger fan of Bone Dragon than I am. Seven is a significantly high number of cards to exile in order to return Bone Dragon to the battlefield, and I don't believe that's a clause one would be able to obtain more than once in a regular game of Standard. Considering the quality of the competition for five mana cards in Standard, I don't believe Bone Dragon will make the cut since it has no effect on the battlefield and requires a steep cost in both mana and cards in graveyard to return to the battlefield.
After seeing Damping Sphere from Dominaria, we have two more incredibly narrow and somewhat baffling hate cards printed in Core Set 2019. These are obviously printed to affect Modern and not Standard, but I don't know who these cards are meant to be for. I guess they're meant to be hate cards against Storm and big mana decks, but both are as easily answered as Damping Sphere and are similarly not reliable as a hate card for those decks.
Death Baron is a very good reprint for the casual crowd, and I'm glad to see it in the set even though I don't believe we'll be seeing a new Zombie deck anytime soon in Standard. I'm not sold giving Bone Dragon deathtouch is the thing it's missing either.
Another card not printed for Standard, I believe Elvish Clancaller will be an upgrade in Modern Elves decks. Unfortunately, the G/W Company player in me hates playing against Elves and therefore, I'm not too happy about this card being printed even though it's a fine addition to the set.
Selfish Grade: F
Realistic Grade: B
Mistcaller has a ton of potential in older formats, but most likely as a sideboard card. I'm not sure it's good enough for the maindeck of Merfolk in Modern, but I like it as a sideboard option to stop Collected Company, Prized Amalgam, Living End, and Through the Breach among others. I've seen some people mention that it stops Aether Vial, but it will only stop one activation as you don't actually need to put a creature onto the battlefield when you activate Aether Vial, so I wouldn't recommend it there. In Legacy this could be an option for blue decks that struggle with Sneak and Show and even Vintage decks could play it against the Oath of Druids decks.
So which cards am I over- or underrating? Do you think Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is as good I as I do? Which reprinted card are you most excited about? In any case, the return of Core Sets is looking good with #MTGM19 looking to like yet another well put together set following the success of Dominaria.