Most of the time, when a new set comes around, I do a Top Ten list, or else act curmudgeonly and just hate on what seems initially to be a weak set with few applications in competitive Constructed Magic.
That is not the case with Core Set 2019. This core set is incredible, with several cards that could make their impact felt on Standard, Modern, or even Legacy. With most sets, that number lies in the single digits, but with Core Set 2019 it seemed appropriate to stretch and try to find no less than nineteen powerful playables that demand consideration going forward.
I was all set to write up a massive Grixis Death's Shadow sideboard guide, but that will have to wait. It's time to ooh and ahh over some previews!
As my grandmother of blessed memory would say, "feh."
These are too narrow for a core set, and a pair of narrow hate cards in a single set is just a bad look. New players will be perplexed and annoyed when they open such strange cards. At least Damping Sphere hates on Tron, Storm, and Ironworks at the same time. Isolation Tower is just narrow G/W Hexproof hate that isn't good enough to put in any deck (colorless lands being a real cost in most decks, and better sideboard options existing in most colors).
Amulet of Safekeeping is just worse than Damping Sphere, as it's so much narrower in Modern. It sort of hates on Mardu Pyromancer in addition to Storm, until you realize that Mardu packs all those Kolaghan's Commands to make you look stupid. If Amulet of Safekeeping had hexproof itself, or even drew a card if it became the target of a spell or ability, then maybe we'd have seen something worth playing.
(Dis)honorable Mention Two: Suncleanser
Well, now I know I won't be losing to Aetherworks Marvel anytime soon! In all seriousness, this card could have been printed in Amonkhet or Hour of Devastation and singlehandedly fixed Standard. Instead, it's the Kataki, War's Wage of Affinity Standard. Maybe it can still fight Walking Ballistas for a couple of months. Ah, well.
On to the good ones!
This (and the next card on the list) are awe-worthy for one reason and one reason only:
It's exciting when Wizards of the Coast reprints an expensive, narrow, Modern-playable rare that has somehow escaped reprint for over a decade. Keeping Modern affordable is a noble goal, and some of these niche rares have had players screaming for a reprint for a while now. It drives sales of the set in a slightly-too-obvious way, but whatever. I could see a future where WotC has completely milked their reprints so hard that they have no more exciting ones left in the holster, but with proper management this is a beautiful way to bolster revenue while increasing the supply of Modern's niche expensive rares.
Similarly, Crucible is a reprint that's been necessary for some time now. The card is playable in every format, it's a casual and Commander superstar, and it was too damn expensive. As long as WotC sprinkles these in new sets conservatively, I'm happy to see a few marquee reprints every so often.
This is a playable, maindeckable hate card. Unlike those crappy narrow rares in the (dis)honorable mention section, Remorseful Cleric is solid in Modern Bant Spirits, Counters Company, and any white aggressive deck that needs more graveyard hate that isn't Rest in Peace. If Standard God-Pharaoh's Gift comes roaring back for some reason, Remoserful Cleric is a nice pickup to fight that as well. All in all, a useful hate card that is both elegant and powerful.
Oketra's Monument, how I pine for thee. If Goblin Chainwhirler somehow gets banned in the next month or so, this deck will be extremely powerful, and these two cards will be at the center of it all. Todd Anderson described it better than I ever could , and he has a lot more experience with the archetype than I do, but suffice it to say that Mentor is powerful enough to be a centerpiece of an aggressive white deck going forward, if there's room for such an archetype in Standard.
Doran, the Siege Tower fans rejoice! If Sylvan Caryatid makes its way back into Standard in the fall, this will be a potent deck indeed. As it currently stands, this is the Commander entry in the list, and it just looks like a ton of fun. Winning with Walls is always a ton of fun, and this is the long-awaited Wall lord we never knew we needed.
Die, Eldrazi scum! I would have preferred for this to draw a card instead, as I like my sideboard hate to be a little more of a punch in the gut than this, but gaining some life isn't bad. This is how you kill a Thought-Knot Seer in style. The flavor is so much better than those crappy hate cards up above that I'm willing to forgive a slightly underpowered targeted answer.
13: Bone Dragon
Bone Dragon is ready ! Ready to win sideboarded games for Dredge in Modern once an opponent slams a few hate cards. Part of the appeal of this card is that, like Archfiend of Ifnir for Living End, it wins games when things are going well and when things aren't. Opponents need to prepare for the degenerate game plan of graveyard decks, but they might just lose to a couple of 5/4 fliers if they cut too much of the normal plan. Dredge isn't particularly well-positioned in current Modern, but there are easily scenarios where it comes roaring back for a few weeks, more so if it has the right tools. Bone Dragon is one of those tools.
Cost reduction is very, very dangerous. Goreclaw makes your Glorybringer cheaper, your Regisaur Alpha cheaper, your Thought-Knot Seers and Reality Smashers cheaper, and your Ghalta, Primal Hungers a lot cheaper. G/R Monsters isn't going anywhere after rotation. It might just get way, way better.
11: Death Baron
Is there still any love for Zombies? This card and the next one could be the pieces needed to bring the team back together for a brief reunion. Dark Salvation is, unfortunately, long-gone, but the Amonkhet squad may be somewhat playable given a new lord and…
...another source of resilience to removal, not unlike Relentless Dead. Graveyard Marshal keeps the beats coming with excess mana while providing a respectable 3/2 body in its own right. Diregraf Ghoul comes along for the ride, and you suddenly have a reasonable swarm-based aggro deck that doesn't instantly fold to Chainwhirler.
Hey! A creature with five toughness! This one won't fold to Glorybringer or Chandra's -3 ability, although in Standard there are a lot fewer ways to get value out of its ability. No, this is a Modern card, one to add to the massive pile of options Collected Company decks get to try. Runic Armasaur blocks well and punishes both fetchlands and most of the Affinity deck, so it could be worth a spot or two. It's not stellar against Hollow One, Humans, or most control decks, but the potential is there.
Modern Elves wasn't in extreme need of a new way to buff the team, but the combination of a use for excess mana and a Lord is not to be underestimated. You can call up a heck of a lot of power with a Clancaller, a Heritage Druid, and a few stragglers. I'm not sure what the optimal build of Modern Elves is, but Clancaller is on a short list of candidates for new upgrades that could push the deck into the top tier. With Collected Company and now Clancaller, the deck isn't likely to run out of things to do with its mana.
Speaking of things to do with excess mana, Thorn Lieutenant offers a body with a bit of built-in resilience to removal as well as a way to turn excess mana into a win. The rate on this one is respectable, and though it doesn't immediately stick out as good enough for Modern Elves, you never know if Standard is going to have enough pieces to make the deck work. There's a world where Llanowar Elves, Thorn Lieutenant, and Elvish Clancaller comprise a fearsome aggro deck in Standard. Don't sleep on these cards!
Azure Mage, eat your heart out! Another way to use excess mana, Mystic Archaeologist joins Search for Azcanta and Arguel's Blood Fast as an extremely potent sideboard option for control mirrors in Standard. When a foolish opponent cuts much of their cheap removal, this little archaeologist can go to work on their life total and draw you a couple of much-needed bonus cards in the midgame during the opponent's end step. This one is going to define a cat-and-mouse game between Esper, U/W, and U/B Control decks going forward. How aggro can you go?
Now we enter the trio of white cards that can bring the color through fall rotation with some power still under the hood. This is another great base-rate card, like Thorn Lieutenant and Graveyard Marshal. If the opponent ever taps out, you can swing the game massively in your favor. If they don't, you can just continue to beat down with a relatively well-proportioned 3/3 flier. Lifelink in the midgame can close the game out against aggro, and the extra threat it generates is absolutely terrifying against control. Incidentally, Lyra Dawnbringer just got that much better with these at her side. If WotC decides to print a few cheaper Angel creatures in the next few sets, Angel tribal might be a real thing. Wouldn't that be a neat Standard?
If you ask me, sweeping an Affinity or Lantern player's battlefield away from them is worthy of a rendition of Champagne Supernova. In Standard, once Fumigate is gone, this will be the go-to way to reset a full battlefield, but the modality of the card gives it utility beyond that straightforward plan. Five mana may be too much to ask for in Modern, but depending on the direction the format moves, a split card of Wrath of God and Fracturing Gust is nothing to sneeze at. Of course, if the next block ends up having a lot of enchantments (a la Theros and the Eidolons) then Cleansing Nova gets even better. A surefire staple.
Ajani is no slouch when it comes to beefing up some white aggressive starts. He's not quite on Gideon, Ally of Zendikar's level, but Ajani has a lot going for him. If you have a few solid creatures on the battlefield, you can boost them through blockers. If your opponent sweeps your creatures out from under you, Ajani will bring them back to keep up the pressure. I expect that after fall rotation, it's going to be white aggro at the forefront of the format. Nothing wrong with that, but first there's a card with a little bit of resentment behind it, a card that won't let red quietly rotate into the sunset without a dominating performance first.
Suck on that, control players! Red isn't going anywhere. For the next three months, this is going to be a Red format, and there's not much to be done about it. Nice Settle the Wreckage, loser! With Treasure Map, excess lands gifted via Settle the Wreckage, and a naturally high land count in most of these red decks, Banefires for ten or more are going to ruin Teferi's day until rotation. Looks like it's going to be a red hot summer, indeed.
But after the summer, there's something dark on the horizon. Winter is coming, in the form of the biggest, baddest villain around.
He has risen. The most powerful Planeswalker ever printed, stapled on the back side of a Siege Rhino-level card. On the front, you get a 4/4 flier for four mana with a free card built in. Then, if the opponent doesn't deal with it, you threaten an unbelievable flip. In the late game, you can just slam this card and immediately flip it to reanimate one of his dead brethren, knocking two cards out of the opponent's hand and presenting two unbeatable threats. What?
In all seriousness, this card isn't going to dominate Standard immediately, because four toughness isn't the best place to be against Chandra and Glorybringer. Mark my words, though. Nicol Bolas is going to be Standard's biggest villain at some point in the next year or so. It is inevitable.