Recent Magic sets have done a great job of introducing exciting cards for Standard, and Core Set 2019 is no exception. I'll be honest though, there is an elephant-sized Goblin Chainwhirler in the room and that will likely mitigate the impact of some of these cards.
Still, brewing is fun and I'm mostly going to be building with Goblin Chainwhirler in mind.
Anyway, who would I be if I didn't talk about Zombies?
Tribal-themed planeswalkers are an interesting direction. Leveraging a self-mill aspect for the Zombie tribe is personally exciting, since those are two of my favorite things!
- 4 Death Baron
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 4 Dread Wanderer
- 4 Graveyard Marshal
- 4 Lord of the Accursed
- 4 Stitcher's Supplier
How are you supposed to beat Goblin Chainwhirler? Either win the die roll, play a lord on Turn 3 (and hope they tap out on Turn 2 instead of holding open Abrade), or cut Dread Wanderer from your deck entirely. Losing Stitcher's Supplier to a Goblin Chainwhirler shouldn't be the end of the world though.
Twelve one-drops and two lords (three, if you count Liliana's Mastery) should allow you to keep a large battlefield presence. Grave Marshal and Liliana, Untouched by Death help give you the staying power you need.
The self-mill aspect allows you to utilize Hostile Desert to some degree. Keep in mind that with twelve one-drops, the colorless mana could prove costly, but having access to a creature-land seems strong. This deck isn't as strong as the Amonkhet-era, but it does look viable.
Liliana, Untouched by Death doesn't strike me as an automatic four-of. Certainly the applications for fighting control decks in sideboard games are huge, but she has numerous problems. Zombies aren't particularly good at blocking most of the time, and Liliana's method of protecting herself is only viable once you already have some creatures on the battlefield. If you get to untap and use her -3 ability, she should be well-defended, but things can be kind of dicey beforehand.
I'm happy to try and build around Liliana because she fits the theme and can be quite powerful, but she won't be a staple.
There's another Zombie in the set that probably won't get as much love as it deserves.
Phylactery Lich didn't see any play the first time around, but the removal was better, the artifacts were worse, and a vanilla 5/5 didn't have the same amount of impact as it does now. It was a huge miss the first time, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will miss again because context is key.
The question worth asking here is, "How much impact does a three-mana indestructible 5/5 have on any given game?" Honestly, I think the answer is quite a bit. Obviously there are Seal Aways and Vraska's Contempts, but that means there's one less thing to remove your Herald of Anguish. The real issue is Abrade blowing up your artifact and your 5/5 for free. That alone might mean Phylactery Lich is better as a sideboard card.
Fountain of Renewal is a card I'm very happy to have around. It's a one-mana artifact that gives you some value and can be cycled later. There are several cards in Standard that have gotten better by sheer virtue of this existing and you'll likely see me exploring many of them soon.
Splashing blue for Metallic Rebuke and The Antiquities War could be good. With Prophetic Prism, Renegade Map, Spire of Industry, and maybe even Navigator's Compass, you can do pretty much whatever you want with the manabase. It's possible that Mono-Black is missing too much of the power from adding an additional color.
How good Sai, Master Thopterist is remains to be seen, but I know I'm going to sink way too much time into trying to figure it out. The payoff of making Thopters doesn't seem worth it in a field of Goblin Chainwhirlers (and Plague Mares), but it should be fine as long as the rest of your deck doesn't fold to it.
- 4 Merchant's Dockhand
- 3 Walking Ballista
- 4 Gearsmith Prodigy
- 4 Glint-Nest Crane
- 4 Sai, Master Thopterist
- 3 Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp
Sai, Master Thopterist has the right stats to be successful. You just need to find artifacts that are worth casting and something to do with all those Thopters. Attacking with an army of fliers is a good start, but I'm not sure that's the strategy that makes the most sense.
I like Glint-Nest Crane into Aethersphere Harvester in theory, but that package doesn't play particularly well with Sai. Yes, you end up with an army of fliers, which should be good, but the curve is awkward and you end up not being able to trigger Sai very much over the course of a game. If you take the above decklist and replace Sai with Tempest Djinn, you might have a stronger deck.
Despite both liking artifacts, Karn and Sai don't work particularly well together unless you want your Constructs to be incredibly large. They are both payoffs for the same type of thing, so maybe you do want them both in the same deck, but it feels awkward to me.
Something along these lines might be the strongest option. You can use the Thopters to fuel Whir of Invention, which can either set up various Module combos or simply put The Immortal Sun onto the battlefield and win the game.
Sai and Jhoira both work well together and they both happen to share the same love for Mox Amber, so what would that look like?
- 4 Bomat Courier
- 4 Merchant's Dockhand
- 4 Baral, Chief of Compliance
- 2 Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain
- 4 Sai, Master Thopterist
- 2 Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive
This is likely not the best implementation, but it's a start.
I can see games playing out where this deck is great at making one power creatures and drawing cards, but not particularly great at closing games. Some bigger effects are probably necessary for actually finishing off your opponents.
I'm excited for Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. If it didn't have the ETB ability, I wouldn't be nearly as excited because I expect it will die the vast majority of the time. Since you're actually getting value off it (and Standard decks are particularly resource-hungry), it strikes me as a very playable card. If you manage to return a Nicol Bolas on Turn 5 with Liliana, Death's Majesty, I like your spot.
The transform ability will likely win you the game if it ever happens, which is never something you should ignore on a Magic card.
A more traditional approach to Grixis also seems viable, but obviously I want to highlight the weird stuff that's possible first and foremost. If Baral ends up not cutting it, you can always go back to playing Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and a pile of midrange cards instead.
We're living in a world with no shortage of powerful four-drops, which means we must pay extra close attention to our mana curve and manabase to ensure we get to cast our four-mana cards on time while also not flooding on them. Baral helps with that to some degree by allowing you to double spell more often.
What about focusing more on the Dragon aspect of Nicol Bolas?
Our second tribal-themed planeswalker is Sarkhan, Fireblood, which seems stronger to me than Liliana. Three-mana planeswalkers deserve close inspection because of how powerful they have the potential of being. While Sarkhan doesn't defend himself, he does filter your draws and potential provide a large mana boost. Left unchecked, he'll also win the game.
Is this the future of R/B Midrange? I think it is.
Your removal is great. You end game is great. Your threats are difficult to deal with. You even get to sideboard some counterspells if you want.
These midrange decks desperately needed some filtering to overcome the issue of drawing the wrong part of their deck and now they have it. Sarkhan is red, the good Dragons are red, and you get to play Goblin Chainwhirler and the best removal. Overall, it seems to mostly build itself.
Getting the mana boost from Sarkhan can be huge, allowing you to play a large threat and a removal spell in the same turn. It helps you double spell earlier while also making it comically easy to do things like kick Verix Bladewing.
Dragon's Hoard is probably nonsense, but it's worth trying out. The acceleration doesn't seem necessary in this build, although you could go a little deeper by playing this alongside some of the other Elder Dragons.
Wily Goblin is a potential addition but is rather weak. There also might be an artifact-based Dragon deck with Freejam Regent, but that seems less likely. I basically just want a reason to play Fountain of Renewal in every deck.
The obvious home for the new Ajani is an aggressive white deck, but with Goblin Chainwhirler around, I'm not even going to bother. Thankfully, we have some other cool white cards that make new archetypes. Ajani isn't going to be a powerhouse in either, but it does slot it well enough.
- 4 Diamond Mare
- 4 Ajani's Pridemate
- 3 Crested Sunmare
- 4 Resplendent Angel
- 4 Sacred Cat
- 2 Sunscourge Champion
- 2 Lyra Dawnbringer
- 2 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Similarly to Tom Ross's aggressive Soul Sisters decks in Modern, this deck utilizes lifegain as a way to get value from the other cards in the deck, not as a central strategy. Cards like Resplendent Angel and Crested Sunmare are powerful, especially in a midrange world. The only necessity is that your enablers aren't too embarrassing on their own, otherwise you would be leaning too much on your mythic rares.
Fountain of Renewal is fine, but Sacred Cat and Diamond Mare aren't blowing anyone away. Thankfully, each of these cards helps make Ajani's Pridemate truly monstrous, so maybe it will all be worth it. Crested Sunmare, if it sticks, is going to completely take over games, as triggering it each turn won't be a problem.
Realistically, I think a better approach will be shaving on the low-impact life gain cards and building a deck with objectively powerful cards with a light touch of lifegain to fuel some of the payoffs. If you want to go full lifegain, there are other options like Shield Mare and Famished Paladin. A mash-up with Oketra's Monument (and maybe Ajani's Welcome) could be viable too.
What about Oketra's Monument on its own though? It's been a while since we've seen such an influx of strong white creatures, so it's worth revisiting.
- 4 Adanto Vanguard
- 3 Aviary Mechanic
- 4 Benalish Marshal
- 4 Knight of Grace
- 3 Mentor of the Meek
- 4 Militia Bugler
- 2 Lyra Dawnbringer
- 2 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
This is going to be a common theme, but yes this deck is weak to Goblin Chainwhirler to some degree. Your actual creatures mostly have two toughness, and you also have Benalish Marshal to get your tokens out of range, but Goblin Chainwhirler can still be devastating with Soul-Scar Mage.
There used to be holes in the mana curve of these decks, but we don't have that problem anymore. There are very few things in this decklist that I'm unhappy to play with.
Militia Bugler is a better Legion Conquistador. Granted, that's not saying much, but it was always the go-to three-drop for Oketra's Monument decks after Bygone Bishop rotated. Now we have a solid replacement for Bygone Bishop in Mentor of the Meek and Militia Bugler as another card advantage piece, so I think we have a deck again.
The combination of Shalai and Lyra is excellent against red decks, plus white has about as much removal as you could possibly want. With the various engines available to us, I'm pumped to give Oketra's Monument another spin.
My final deck is centered around one of the cards I'm more excited about in Core 2019.
We haven't had a good sacrifice outlet in a while, so although Dark-Dweller Oracle is a Goblin, it wouldn't surprise me if it shows up in way more places. It's efficient in a go-wide strategy as a late game engine, but having a sacrifice outlet is also great for decks trying to utilize Gate to the Afterlife.
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Combat Celebrant
- 4 Dark-Dweller Oracle
- 4 Fanatical Firebrand
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 2 Goblin Instigator
- 4 Siege-Gang Commander
- 4 Skirk Prospector
- 2 Volley Veteran
- 22 Mountain
Goblin Gift showed some promise early on last season. Goblin Chainwhirler can decimate your position, but God-Pharaoh's Gift goes over the top of it quite nicely. With all the Goblins in this set, I'd be surprised if this tribe didn't show up at some point, Goblin Chainwhirler be damned.
There's also the version that uses Bomat Courier and Wily Goblin to enable Inventors' Fair, which is cool, but ultimately unnecessary. If you don't want to use God-Pharaoh's Gift (or sideboard the package), don't forget about Goblin Warchief and Goblin Trashmaster, as those two could help fuel a pure tribal deck, especially with multiple copies of Volley Veteran.
That's it for this week, but don't worry, the brews don't end here. I've got a notepad file still bursting with ideas for next week. Omniscience, Satyr Enchanter, Elvish Clancaller, Heroic Reinforcements, and Isareth, the Awakener are on my to-do list.