Core Set 2019 is almost here, and with it comes a handful of cards I'm pretty happy to start building decks with. We just had a Standard Grand Prix won by another Mono-Red deck, with all the classic hits running just a little bit behind. We had God-Pharaoh's Gift, The Scarab God, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria bringing up the rear. At this point, it feels like if you aren't playing blue or red in your deck, then you're probably doing something very wrong.
But that can change.
With every new set comes a new set of possibilities and new tools to make existing (or forgotten) archetypes into potentially powerful foils to the current Standard format. But this time around, Standard isn't the only format getting a few goodies to mess around with.
This is a pretty spectacular card on its own.
This ability is particularly powerful in Modern, as small creatures are usually fine for defending your Planeswalker. For a very long time, Elspeth, Knight-Errant was one of the best cards in a handful of Extended and Legacy decks, giving control or midrange a different angle of attack. And while the cost of Tezzeret is one larger than Elspeth, the ability to generate flying threats seems particularly sweet.
This ability is above that of Jace, the Mind Sculptor as far as raw card advantage is concerned. And if you have some way, like Faithless Looting, to turn those extra resources (lands, etc.) into valuable spells, then you could turn Tezzeret, Artifice Master into a powerhouse. Drawing two extra cards a turn is not something we've seen before on a Planeswalker, consistently at least. If you've tried to beat a resolved Teferi, Hero of Dominaria in Modern, you'd realize that raw card advantage is already fantastic. And while Tezzeret can't tuck an annoying opposing permanent, he is only one color and can generate threats that can trade, protect, pressure Planeswalkers, or actually win the game on their own.
Getting a permanent out of your deck every single turn is somewhat of a pipe dream. I've joked in the past about the ultimate of Jace, the Mind Sculptor is just "Brainstorm," because an extra Brainstorm effect is usually enough to win the game. But yes, when you actually ultimate Jace, the Mind Sculptor, the game ends. The problem there is that Jace must minus one loyalty in order to protect itself, where Tezzeret gets to plus his loyalty to do the same. I don't want to start comparing these cards, because the one mana cost and abilities are drastically different, but I think this card is likely good enough to see Vintage play. And when that's the case, I start to look long and hard at the other formats and how I can garner the full potential out of this card.
Here's my first go at a "Grixis Tezzeret" deck for Modern.
I could be way off base here, but I think Tezzeret, Artifice Master fits into this shell much better than Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Much higher starting loyalty, with a plus up to six to create a Thopter, means it will be a tough road to hoe for any opponent trying to attack it down. On top of that, the aggressive slant is much more in line with what this deck is trying to accomplish.
I think the best versions of Tezzeret, Artifice Master in Modern won't worry too much about the "three artifact" clause, if only because drawing two extra cards a turn versus one extra card isn't a huge difference. The raw card advantage every turn will be difficult enough to beat, and I could see a world where continually making Thopters and pushing his loyalty is all you want to be doing. After all, you can play a pretty aggressive game with this deck. Gurmag Angler functions a lot like Tarmogoyf in this deck, and if you can't see the similarities between my more aggressive Temur Box decks and this one, then you need to go get your eyes checked. This is not a Grixis Control strategy. This is a Grixis Tempo strategy, with a few cards that could help you win longer games. Kolaghan's Command, for example, is very good at being a complete blowout against stuff like Affinity, while giving you some much needed card advantage alongside Snapcaster Mage.
It's possible that the counterspells like Mana Leak and Spell Snare are worse than Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek, but I think the format is ripe for some counter-magic again. We'll just have to wait and see!
I think this card could become a sideboard staple in Modern but could be a major maindeck player in Legacy. One mana to take care of any permanent that also costs one mana is much more desirable in older formats than Standard. As formats grow larger, the card pool of one-mana spells grows larger, and the list of spells you can play at that cost inherently becomes stronger. We see this in spades in Legacy, with decks like Grixis Delver running the place, but that's not the only deck in the format that has a huge emphasis on one mana spells.
Aether Vial is a big one, if only because decks that want to play removal also want ways to interact with early problematic permanents. Hitting Aether Vial is a huge boon for a one-mana spell that can also deal with both Delver of Secrets and Deathrite Shaman. The list is pretty small, but when Delver of Secrets and/or Deathrite Shaman take up about a third of your matchups, having access to a card like Isolate doesn't sound so bad. In Modern, the list of cards you can hit isn't exactly large, but there are still quite a few goodies you can hit from players' maindecks.
And with Humans being a major player in the Modern format, taking out Aether Vial is still a pretty big deal. To me, Isolate feels like a "fixed" Mental Misstep. It isn't quite as powerful, but that's certainly a good thing, as Mental Misstep is known to ruin formats. Taking out your opponent's first-turn play for a single mana, regardless of what permanent it is, is not something you should ignore. And if there ever comes a time in the near future where aggressive decks start to overtake the format, having a one-mana answer that gives you some splash damage for weirdo permanents like Aether Vial is huge!
This card is a serious "screw you" to Eldrazi, but it comes a little late in the game. Had this card been accessible during "Eldrazi Winter," when Eldrazi ruined the Modern format for two or three months, maybe things wouldn't have gotten so bad.
Here's what I like about Infernal Reckoning: it doesn't mess around. It's very clearly a sideboard card for older formats and can act as a safety valve if Eldrazi ever becomes "The Best Deck" ever again. With Ceremonious Rejection in blue and Infernal Reckoning in black, that just might be enough cheap answers to keep them on their toes, and really punish them for playing such a linear strategy. And when you start pairing this with Snapcaster Mage, taking down those types of decks becomes much easier.
This card is an obvious dig at decks like Tron, which needs all three pieces of Tron lands to function. Naming one of those three lands shuts down the trio completely. The downside is obvious, in that it gives your opponent access to colored mana, which can immediately cast Nature's Claim, but most of the hosers you play against the Tron decks can be beaten in one way or another. Either they're too slow, too easy to kill, or not effective enough.
Here's what I like about Alpine Moon as compared to all the other choices: it's cheap! In red decks, spells that are cheap must have a reasonable impact on the game, as you're taking roughly half of your turn (or more) to cast it. I like having my hate cards be cheaper because that allows me to put pressure on my opponent while still being able to cast another spell. Alpine Moon doesn't draw a card like Blood Sun or completely shut the door on some decks like Blood Moon, but it does a fine job at disrupting them long enough to establish some pressure and hopefully close the door on them.
I don't know if this card is quite good enough to see Modern or Legacy play, but the ability is certainly unique and powerful. When you pair it with Death's Shadow, you start to get a sense of how you can really push this card. When you start combining it with Snapcaster Mage, things get ugly. And if you're a Kolaghan's Command deck, you can keep casting Isareth the Awakener over and over again, threatening to bring back all the other creatures your opponent may have killed along the way!
Here's what I like about this card: It's another card where cost matters. The lower the cost of your creatures, the better it gets. When you play this in Sultai Delver in Legacy, you can bring back hits like Deathrite Shaman, Tarmogoyf, or even Dark Confidant! If your opponent doesn't kill this creature and they've killed one of your other creatures already, you threaten to end the game on the spot (so long as you've drawn enough disruption along the way). I love the fact that this card pairs well with disruptive threats like Kitesail Freebooter and Tidehollow Sculler, continuously putting pressure on your opponent to deal with them or lose their best card.
The deathtouch on Isareth is also nice, because it means their blocker is definitely dying if their only way to remove it is via combat. Plus, in a pinch, Isareth can be a fine blocker for an opposing annoyance like Gurmag Angler or other large monster your opponent might be attacking with.
Cards like Isareth are difficult to assess, because they require some amount of thought to go into deckbuilding. Do you use it to continuously bring back small creatures, clearing out their blockers with removal? Do you fill your deck with cheap must-kill threats like Dark Confidant so that Isareth actually sticks? Or do you go big and use Isareth like a pseudo-Zombify, getting back your largest creature(s)? It won't be quick, but I expect big things from Isareth the Awakener in older formats. Any creature that threatens to gain a significant amount of card advantage is a big deal, and especially so when its converted mana cost is three or less.
I don't expect big things from Thud, but it seems like a nice Fling effect for one mana. Sorcery speed is not ideal, but being one mana cheaper is huge in something like Fling-a-Tog. This card is pretty similar to Temur Battle Rage, though a bit more dangerous for half the cost. I'm curious to see if anyone tries it out, but I doubt we'll see it anytime soon.
I'm not quite sure how good this card is just yet, but it feels pretty busted alongside the dredge mechanic. Anything that goes from the graveyard to the battlefield with minimal cost is pretty scary in my book. And while five mana might seem like a ton, I don't think it's all that difficult when you're leaning on Life from the Loam. Of course, with Golgari Grave-Troll making a swift exit from Modern, Dredge has fallen off the map. Perhaps this card could see some fringe play in decks that use the graveyard a little bit, but that might be asking too much considering Gurmag Angler exists.
I haven't seen a "Value Town" card like this in quite some time! Todd Stevens must be pretty excited to cast this on the second turn. I wish it also included artifacts, but drawing a card every time your opponent cracks a fetchland is already pretty sweet. And as formats get older, cards like Runic Armasaur can only get better. Just imagine an opponent going all-in with Arcbound Ravager when you have Runic Armasaur and one mana left up!
We've seen the "ability punisher" mechanic before on cards like Burning-Tree Shaman and Harsh Mentor, but dealing damage isn't always as good as drawing a card. This gives different decks the potential to play a card that generates them some long-term advantage. But honestly, I'd like a card that punishes people for activating Planeswalkers! And Expedition Map! And...and...you get the idea.
I don't expect big things from this card, but I'm a fan of any creature than can gain incremental advantage over time. The stats are more than solid, and punishing your opponent for killing your early creatures is awesome. Is this card better than something like Lingering Souls? Probably not, but it sure hits hard in the early turns, and drawing multiples is fine because they've likely killed the first one. Again, this is another card that probably doesn't fit into an existing archetype in either Modern or Legacy, but I could see it shining in either format.
An easy inclusion for any Modern or Legacy Goblin deck, Goblin Trashmaster is an expensive lord that gives you a very cheap way to interact with artifacts that would do you harm. And while we don't have Goblin Matron in Modern (yet), I could see this as an easy tutor target in Legacy. Goblins isn't currently a "real" Legacy deck, but I'm sure Jim Davis is hard at work trying to come up with some way to make Goblins playable again.
With Goblin Warchief and Skirk Prospector making their way into Modern thanks to reprints in recent sets, the pieces seem to be coming together. Now all we need is Goblin Matron, Goblin Sharpshooter, and Gempalm Incinerator to really get the party started! Let's hope cycling comes back in the next block or two.
I actually love the idea of playing this in Modern, if only because any spell that completely wrecks Affinity just makes me happy. Supreme Verdict is obviously the best of the bunch because it can't be countered, but any sweeper that has some utility outside of just killing creatures is a plus in my book. And with Fracturing Gust already seeing play in Modern sideboards, I don't think it's much of a stretch for Cleansing Nova to start seeing some play here and there.
Kat Light is probably giggling right now over this card. Her recent finals finish as the Modern player at the Team Constructed Open in Atlanta earlier this year has drummed up some hype around Bant Spirits in Modern. While Caleb Durward is the most notable player to have piloted the archetype, I've played against it a handful of times over the last few years. People clearly like the deck and having a cheap Spirit with decent stats that can interact with the graveyard is definitely a plus.
Format all-star? Probably not, but I could see a number of different decks that want this type of card. White-based aggressive decks of all sorts should want this over something less intense than Rest in Peace. And if you happen to care about your own graveyard, this can act similarly to Tormod's Crypt with a free 2/1 body attached.
Aside from the cards listed above, I'm certain there are a handful of useful cards from this set that could see play here and there in Modern. Nothing really stands out to me as "multi-format all-star" other than Tezzeret, Master Artificer, but that doesn't mean I'm right! And that's the beauty of a new set of Magic cards. Creatures that look menacing can often flop. Instants that look innocuous could go on to be format-defining. Just look at Fatal Push!
While Core Set 2019 isn't part of an overarching story spanning the course of an entire year, the lore behind a lot of these cards feels like coming home. With Dominaria hitting so many of my buttons and lot of throwbacks being printed in the set, I'm happy with how it looks as a whole. And with a few spicy reprints...
Modern is currently the format with all the buzz around it. Y'all love it, and I want to see new cards thrive. I want more sideboard spells. I want more removal spells with cross-format play. I want creatures that are good enough to break through all the nonsense without being too oppressive. It's a fine line to walk as a member of R&D. I'm really digging this set, and I hope you are too.
And if you think any of the cards I left off the list could see some Modern play, hit me up. I'd love to see some decklists incorporating new cards!