The next chapter of the Magic saga continues with M19, a core set that looks to be one of the best core sets we've ever seen. With only a handful of preview cards shown to us so far, there are quite a few awesome inclusions to be excited about. Scapeshift reprint? I know a lot of people are clamoring about getting their hands on that expensive Modern staple! Crucible of Worlds, too? Well, that's already a couple of really good pulls and we haven't even gotten to the new stuff! But I'm not here to talk about the financial value of the set. I'll leave that to Chas Andres and the rest of the SCG money squad. No, I'm here today to talk about some of my favorites cards that have been previewed so far.
Now, there are some Elder Dragon Legends that won't be on my list. Yes, they're powerful, but they're not exactly in my wheelhouse. And to make sure I don't step on anyone's shoes, I'm going to be picking up some of the choicer gems that might not be getting any attention, or perhaps just some that I think need a little more attention than they're getting right now. And to be completely fair to the cynics reading along with me, there are a few mediocre cards that I want to talk about as well. So, without further ado, let's talk about the studs and duds of M19!
Let's get this one out of the way first. The duds of M19 are going to be as follows:
a) Cards that could have been reprinted but were instead replaced by a card with a different name.
b) Clearly more powerful version than an existing card, seemingly for no reason.
c) Generic slaps in the face.
d) Cards I just hate.
What, Suntail Hawk too good for Core sets now? Gotta add that one toughness because all the cool kids are playing
Goblin Chainwhirler Plague Mare? I see. Suntail Hawk and I go way back, as I've been casting it in my aggressive white strategies during core set Limited for longer than Jonathan Rosum has been alive.
Speaking of being slapped in the face, did they really need to give black decks a Goblin Chainwhirler-light? Oh I suppose the problem with Goblin Chainwhirler was that it was a 3/3 with first strike as opposed to invalidating every deck in the format that played more than two different creatures with only one point of toughness. Don't mind me. I'll just be hoarding these for the eventual Goblin Chainwhirler ban so that I get rich in the aftermath as people struggle to beat Anointed Procession.
I repeat, was Lightning Blast too good? Did core set red decks really need their midrange finishers to get a nerf? Yeah, yeah, I know that Electrify is a perfectly reasonable removal spell for Limited, but if you're trying to get me all nostalgic for 2003 Magic with Dominaria, Llanowar Elves, and Giant Spider, you can't give me Electrify instead of Lightning Blast! That's just blasphemy! What's next? A Lava Axe that only targets Planeswalkers?
Get out. Just get the hell out of here. Again? Why is this card in another set? Why can't we just have Craw Wurm or Fangren Firstborn or any other midrange green fatty that isn't Colossal Dreadmaw? Is this some kind of inside joke at Wizards of the Coast that none of us will get? Is this like the Gruesome Encore thing that I never got?
Hey buddy. You know that Urza's Tower card you got? Yeah, it's gonna tap for any color now, including green, which is precisely the color of that sideboard card you brought in to kill Blood Moon. Because why would anyone play Alpine Moon instead of Blood Moon? Half the point of Blood Moon is that you steal free wins by keeping your opponent from playing colored spells.
I get it. This card isn't necessarily bad. There's a pretty big upside here in only costing one mana, as it allows you to use your mana to apply pressure or cast more disruption spells. That's fine. I would much rather they just banned Urza's Power Plant (and/or 9th Edition) and got it over with. After all, 9th Edition is the only white-bordered set in Modern. Doesn't feel very Modern now, does it?
This card might as well have said "All spells named Grapeshot or Empty the Warrens no longer do anything." I mean, I understand that Storm has been getting a little more popular as of late, but this is one of the laziest hate cards I've ever seen. I suppose they didn't have enough time to learn that even Damping Sphere doesn't affect them all that much. It just means they need to find a bounce spell. And with Repeal, Unsubstantiate, and Echoing Truth all seeing a reasonable amount of play from Storm (as well as every Tron or whatever big mana deck playing tons of Disenchant effects), I doubt Amulet of Safekeeping will go down as anything more than a bad punchline to a joke that no one wants to hear.
"Hey, did you hear? They just decided to ban another card out of Storm!"
"Yeah, that sucks. Noxious Revival was really giving them the redundancy they needed to combo off."
And now we come to the good stuff. These are my Top 5 cards from M19 (so far). These cards might not be great right off the bat, but I'm sure they'll make a splash in Standard at some point. They're just too good, even if the surrounding cast isn't quite there yet to make them busted, or there are a few annoyances from Kaladesh keeping them down. And while some of the more busted mythic rares should be on my list, those tend to speak for themselves, and I'll leave some of the brighter minds of StarCityGames.com® to comment on them further down the road.
This one almost made the "Duds" list because it isn't Man-o'-War, but I get it. We need more cards for Wizards to be playable. Alongside Wizard's Lightning and Wizard's Retort, Exclusion Mage could be the tempo player that deck needs to become an all-star in the Standard format! Plus, it might end up being playable in Modern. We already see the Humans deck maxing out on Reflector Mage, so I could see a world in which they want another one or two forms of this effect.
But what I'm most excited to try out is a tempo-based blue aggressive strategy. I've been wanting to get one of those to work ever since they printed Tempest Djinn, but the aggressive creatures just weren't there. Maybe we only need one or two more before we have something akin to Mono-Blue Devotion again. Ross Merriam can only hope! In fact, I don't remember the last time Ross Merriam did well in a Standard tournament, but I'd be willing to bet it was when Nightvale Specter was legal!
While the tempo effect of Exclusion Mage isn't exactly a new ability, we rarely see it at three mana anymore. And the last time it was in Standard at three mana, it was banned! Sure, Reflector Mage had that annoying clause that the opponent couldn't play it on the next turn, but that just made it degenerate. I'm okay playing a bit fairer, and especially so when I get it in a single color. While Mono-Blue Aggro might be somewhat of a pipe dream until the next few sets are released, I'm keeping my eye out on U/R Wizards in the coming months.
For starters, this card seems pretty reasonable for its cost. Three mana for a 3/3 flier? That's a great rate no matter who you ask. Most of the time, creatures with those stats come with a significant drawback. Resplendent Angel comes with a huge tempo swing if the opponent ever taps out, or if you're in desperation mode and need to gamble that they don't have a removal spell.
The lifelink swings can win games by itself, and especially so when coupled with creating a 4/4 Angel on every attack. The damage starts to pile up and if your opponent can't deal with it, then it could singlehandedly take over a game. I would recommend being extremely careful on when you activate this card, as your opponent could just kill it in response and blank your entire turn, but I love what this card is bringing to the table. The potential is there. And albeit risky, the ceiling on this card is very high.
I'm also a fan of cards that are great in both the early and later turns of a game. And if Resplendent Angel is just another part of your early curve but can serve as a way to close the late game, then I'm all for its inclusion in a number of different archetypes. We haven't seen much "W/X Midrange" as of late, but Resplendent Angel could be the card that turns it all around.
Did I mention "W/X Midrange" already? This is a card I haven't seen for a while, but one I think could pair nicely with an already existing Standard card that most people seem to have forgotten about.
I was desperately looking for a card like Bygone Bishop to give Oketra's Monument an engine to work with, and Mentor of the Meek is exactly that card! And did you see that you can pay one mana to draw a card whenever you create the token from Oketra's Monument? This is the perfect card to give Oketra's Monument one last hurrah before the rotation!
Again, Mentor of the Meek and Oketra's Monument are spells that tend to suffer from lacking a decent supporting cast, but there's a chance that this style of deck could just work if the pieces come together. We already have a Squadron Hawk-esque card in Legion Conquistador, as well as a ton of other ways to produce tokens to draw cards from Mentor of the Meek.
And if you're thinking that this style of deck could never work, just remember that Oketra's Monument was an insanely good deck for like two months, playing hits like Hanweir Militia Captain. As long as the cards all interact well enough, you can consistently find your pieces, and you survive long enough to get those pieces online, you can defeat anything!
But yes, times have changed. Goblin Chainwhirler and Abrade are both cards that exist and could give this type of strategy a difficult time. But that's half the fun, isn't it? Plus, I'd guess there's roughly a 20% chance or more that Goblin Chainwhirler gets the axe in the next few weeks. It's just math, folks!
2. Nicol Bolas, the Ravager
Mr. Big Bad Elder Dragon in his earliest form, finally finding his spark. Well congratulation, ya jerk. And spoiler alert: you end up destroying most of the multiverse. And for what!? Because you're bored? Someone stiffed you when you were working at Macaroni Grill in your early twenties? Bad stuff happens to all of us, Nic.
To be honest, this is another card that could have easily ended up in the "Duds" category. Yes, it's efficient. Yes, it's powerful. Yes, it's flavorful and awesome and is probably going to be one of the most expensive rares in the set. But come on, did they really need to give the opponent an opportunity to kill it mid-flip? Since the colon comes after the mana investment, as opposed to exiling it as part of the cost, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is going to lead a lot of people into feel-bad situations. When someone activates this card, one of three things is going to happen:
a) A newer player will have to ask a judge why his mythic rare Elder Dragon was killed in response to it flipping after they invested eleven mana into it.
b) A seasoned player will be too afraid to activate it because of how bad it feels to have it killed after investing so much mana into it.
c) Someone is going to kill it with the activation on the stack and feel very, very smart.*
*(They are not, in fact, smart.)
In these three scenarios, I must ask one question: Why couldn't they kill it on their own turn? Why would you even open this up to the potential of having such a feel-bad moment? Is the threat of someone having access to eleven mana and casting plus flipping in the same turn "too dangerous?" My Magic 8-Ball says no.
But aside from (what I think is) a design flaw, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is still quite potent. Having an effect when it enters the battlefield is basically the status quo for playable creatures nowadays. If you don't do something before your opponent kills it or your opponent just flat out can't kill it, then that creature is unlikely to make it into basically any deck.
Here's what I want to see: Midrange Grixis strategies using Liliana, Death's Majesty and other reanimation effects to keep the Bolas coming. If they kill it, big deal. Just bring it back, make them discard another card, and eventually flip it into the powerhouse it was always meant to be! And even though it's legendary, this is definitely a legendary creature you're more than happy to play three or four copies of in your deck.
1. Cleansing Nova
The first image I saw of Cleansing Nova was a blurry version that was barely legible. I saw arguments on Twitter on whether it was 5WW or 3WW. That's how hard it was to read! But now that we have official confirmation that this card exists at 3WW, I am ecstatic to play with it. A sweeper effect that could potentially be used as a Fracturing Gust? Sign me up!
Of all the cards I've seen from M19 so far, this is the one that's impressed me the most. One of the biggest downsides to playing a mopey U/W Control deck (or other W/X Control strategy) is that your cards are often one-dimensional. Yes, you can play as many copies of Hallowed Burial or Fumigate or Planar Outburst as you want, but they all just deal with creatures. And for five mana, that's a heck of an investment. Sure, sweeper effects like these have become commonplace in Standard, but the fact remains that they were mostly one-dimensional and left something to be desired against several weirdo strategies being thrown at you.
I expect this is a late reaction to the Anointed Procession decks we saw cropping up a bit last year. There was a chance that they were running rampant, and design pushed a few cards through to help in those matchups. I think that's why we have Goblin Chainwhirler, Plague Mare, and now Cleansing Nova, effectively giving three decks big answers to a swarm of tokens, if only for a turn. But since those decks no longer exist (for the most part), there needs to be a reason to play Cleansing Nova over something like Fumigate.
My first thought for why Cleansing Nova will see a lot of play over the next few months (or possibly years) is because Fumigate is rotating out of Standard very soon, and unless they print a better sweeper effect at five mana, or reprint Day of Judgment in the next set, Cleansing Nova is the go-to.
My second thought was that white-based decks might just need a sideboard card to hose all enchantments, just in case there's a deck that gets completely out of control. While cards like Fracturing Gust didn't see much play while they were in Standard, times have changed, and so has the Fracturing Gust! And while you can't play it at instant speed or gain a ton of life, you can choose the mode that says "This is now Day of Judgment." And that's pretty great!
Modal spells have always been at the top of my list for "cards to see if they're actually good." If anything, Magic is a game of choices, and cards that give you more choices tend to be a little bit better than cards that leave you with fewer choices. Again, that's just math. But Cleansing Nova is the first sweeper effect in a very long time that could affect something that wasn't a creature. Sure, Hour of White Something or Other That We Forgot The Name Of Because It Wasn't Very Good can also hit artifacts, enchantments, and other permanents I think? All I remember is that it always killed all my own enchantments, which is a no-go for white decks nowadays.
We aren't even halfway there for preview cards from M19, but it already looks promising. Not only does the financial value seem like it's going to be a slam dunk, but the cards themselves look pretty sweet for Standard and Limited. Look, I know I say this every time:
"This new set looks like fun and I can't wait to try it out!"
"This mythic rare is sure to turn some heads!"
"These new cards look awesome, and I want to build a bad U/R deck that does virtually nothing!"
I don't want to sound all Buzzfeedy, so this time I'm going to give it to you straight: I already see some minor flaws in both design and flavor, but the power level is starting to shape up and it looks pretty sick. Yes, there are some "duds," but that's going to happen when you work on a game that produces roughly a thousand new cards a year. I want y'all to trust me, so trust me when I say this:
Core sets tend to be less complex because they were initially used as a tool to introduce new players to Magic, but this one looks better than average in both card quality and draftability. I'm looking forward to it.