I never get too excited when Core Set season is upon us, because the spells in these print cycles are usually underwhelming. It's a time for Wizards of the Coast to get a Divination, Disperse, Cancel, and Murder reprint and create a few problematic creatures for control decks. This has been the historic trend of these summer sets for as long as I've been playing, but things are a bit different this time around. Core Set 2019 has the aforementioned junk reprints that will likely see zero play but has added onto the mountain of control finishers that exist in today's Standard. Rotation is on the horizon, so I'm not going to complain that we have some go-to win conditions when my bestie Torrential Gearhulk joins the Modern family. The spells getting weaker and weaker does sting this old control mage, but I do believe that control has been a viable option for the last year and this set will do nothing to change that.
The fear that keeps me up at night is the lack of card draw that will consume blue mages once Kaladesh rotates. Glimmer of Genius is leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the competition, and I was hoping there would be a Foresee reprint in Core Set 2019 to assist in our transition. The best spell we gained from Core Set 2019 is Nexus of Fate and that card may be unplayable in a competitive setting. The lack of spell creativity wouldn't have a negative impact on Team Control if the other side received nothing, but that isn't the case.
The name says it all here. The bane of control's existence is a threat that can't be answered, and this spell embodies that trait. Banefire is a card that plagued control decks many years ago and that was a time before creatures ruled the world. Not many red aggressive decks will adopt this
Surrendering isn't in my DNA, so let's discuss a few solutions. The first is to be much more proactive. I don't think the U/W Control, four Teferi, Hero of Dominaria approach is correct for the upcoming Standard. I wrote about the weaknesses of U/W Control last month , and how the black removal was too good to pass up. This opinion panned out as we saw U/B and Esper take over as the control option in recent events. Mike Sigrist, who brilliantly piloted U/W Control at GP Pittsburgh last weekend, stated several times that he would take a random sixty card deck over his choice for his elimination rounds in the top 8.
Outside of this fantastic player piloting a mediocre deck to a strong finish, Vraska's Contempt runs the control show in Standard. Luckily for us, U/B Control can naturally be proactive. The Scarab God is an aggressive win condition that can quickly end a game and we have seen it do just that from midrange, or control players, alike. Torrential Gearhulk is another finisher that has large numbers in the power and toughness boxes, that pairs well with the spells deployed earlier for survival.
These win conditions are a known entity and can be predictable for deck builders to hate out. This leads us to the new kids on the block from Core Set 2019 that have provided a necessary distraction from the continuous crippling of spell's power level. My favorite of these new win conditions is Chromium, the Mutable. Don't let the mana cost of this creature fool you my friends; this is lights out, seven damage from left field that cannot be dealt with outside of mass removal. The "can't be countered" clause makes it a control breaker, but the rest of the text makes it great against all other decks of the format that don't kill you by turn five. Flying gives additional insurance that this will deal massive, game-ending damage without the need to discard a card to take down an opponent's life total by one. Prognostic Sphinx was always one of my favorite win conditions of Standard and this Elder Dragon is significantly better.
The icing on the cake is the ability for Chromium to become hexproof at will. Hexproof is an ability that control players get beat by, but rarely use to their advantage. Aetherling had that feel and this feels even safer as having ample cards in hand is a problem that we rarely encounter. The Esper manabase has improved enough to survive rotation and I see myself sleeving up an Esper strategy soon because of that. It's still tough to get away from The Scarab God/Torrential Gearhulk duo, but if you're currently battling with the power of Esper, toss one of these monsters right in the maindeck with confidence.
Even though the Esper Dragon beckons my heart, there's another Elder Dragon that lures me to the mountainside. Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is the exact card that would make me regress back to my Grixis Control period. Another bargain, four-costed win condition that has an enters the battlefield ability typically wouldn't excite me or anyone that reads my work, but the back of the card reveals the true power of the most notorious villain in Magic's history. The abilities of Nicol Bolas, the Arisen are all ridiculously powerful and help take over the game instantly.
It goes to nine loyalty right off the bat, drawing two cards, and becoming quite difficult to kill. The downside is the mana investment required to do so and it must be done at sorcery speed. These drawbacks must exist for how game-ending the abilities are. If Grixis Control becomes my weapon of choice in a few weeks, it will be short-lived. Once Harnessed Lightning rotates, my loyalty to red removal goes with it as I still believe that it's the best removal spell for control, but can't be the reason for adding red.
Abrade, Magma Spray, and Hour of Devastation all gain stock in the Core Set 2019 Standard. With the resurgence of God Pharaoh's Gift piloted by Jack Kiefer at GP Pittsburgh to a Top 4 finish, Abrade is a card that control players would kill for when facing down this powerful strategy. Abrade has other uses as well against Vehicles and three-drop (or less) creatures. Magma Spray is another option that handles problematic, reoccurring creatures from God Pharaoh's Gift, R/B Aggro, and Mono-Red Aggro very well. Both cards are criminally underplayed and are shied away from because the three-color mana base is still not perfect. Playing three colors is as easy as it's ever been, but it's tough to justify when the two-color variants are equally powerful. U/B Control is still king of the hill and has a decent matchup against all the Goblin Chainwhirler variants, so my dedication to these new Core Set 2019 win conditions may be short-lived.
It all depends on the impact of Banefire and the power of Zombies with Core Set 2019's release. If I'm wrong and midrange red decks do not take advantage of the free win fireball, then we can continue to slowly nickel and dime our way to victory with U/B Control. The onus is on our opponent to pressure us to win faster and decks, outside of Mono-Red Aggro, have trouble doing so. Banefire eliminates control's inevitability and may force us to adapt with bigger, faster win conditions.
Zombies is an archetype that I thought was eliminated for good last year from competitive play. That notion was eliminated after seeing an additional lord, a fantastic two-drop, and a planeswalker that serves as a crippling removal spell all in the same set. This wave of Zombie love will ultimately resurrect the deck and make it immediately competitive. Zombies has never been a deck that scared control players, but it does make us build slightly differently.
Spot removal is great when creatures pop up one at a time, but when a horde appears, battlefield sweepers are required. U/B Control isn't known for it s mass removal, so an adaptation may have to occur to keep the Zombie army at bay. This may mean maindeck copies of Yahenni's Expertise or a switch to a third color option. Hour of Devastation would be my go to, because I still believe the white removal is very easy to defeat. Zombies may not be able to play around Fumigate/Settle the Wreckage, but the other top decks most certainly have that capability.
If the format is shaken up enough where Vraska's Contempt is no longer required, white removal is effective enough, and I get to play Chromium, the Mutable, so be it! This set is pushing interesting win conditions, tribal power, blue artifact synergies, and a Resplendent Angel that forced me to look up every card in Standard that gains life. Although Core Set 2019 doesn't excite me, I'm always pumped to solve the metagame puzzle of a new format.Once I hit the lab with these Dragons, decklists will follow!