It feels like only yesterday we were cracking packs at the Dominaria prerelease, but here we are! Core Set 2019 is almost upon us and I couldn't be more thrilled. While Standard is clearly better than it was when Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner were legal, there's a new boogyman on the block that I'm already tired of.
While I think we'll feel the impact of Goblin Chainwhirler less after the fall rotation, I'm not looking that far into the future just yet because we've been given some awesome new tools to work with and I've already got SCG Worcester on the brain!
We don't have normal Standard Opens like we used to, but the opening weekends for the Team Constructed Opens have been a thrilling experience each time I've gotten the chance to play them. From Grixis Energy, to G/R Monsters, then some U/W Control decks with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria that may or may not feel flashy, it's been a ton of fun and this core set seems to be shaking things up in a big way.
Let's start with my first pick for Standard all-star!
There's so much to be said about Nicol Bolas and I can't even begin to fathom how many Grixis mages out there felt like a dream had come true seeing this beautiful card previewed. What's not to love? For starters, it's a dragon which means it gets an "A" for Awesome in my book. Next, it has a taxing enters the battlefield effect which satisfies the need for this card to do something even if it's killed off immediately. Lastly, it has lasting impact on the battlefield besides being just a 4/4 flier for four mana.
In some ways, Nicol Bolas reminds me a lot of my favorite Magic cards of all time:
While the comparison might feel like a bit much, they're both creatures that transform into planeswalkers which already puts them in a unique position to start with. Both have a card advantage based-trigger and both can take over a game if it goes long while having an impact early as well. While Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is certainly more about its size and attacking than Nissa, Vastwood Seer ever was, I'm still looking at all the possibilities with this card.
We live in a very hostile world at the moment for four toughness creatures, but Nicol Bolas has more chances than most to stick around. First, it's a dragon, which means that it passes the first test of by getting by Glorybringer's ability, something that has been the bane of many midrange creatures in Standard. So, with that out of the way, what other test does it have to pass?
The Chandra, Torch of Defiance test is certainly one that it has a slight issue with, but, again, that's where the cards inherent value of making them discard comes into effect, making you feel like you still got something out of the exchange. It's tough to deal with Chandra, Torch of Defiance for most decks, but the fact that Nicol Bolas demands a minus from the powerful planeswalker is crucial since most of the threats you'd try and attack her with are also vulnerable to your opponent plussing Chandra, Torch of Defiance for mana and then using a spell from hand to keep her at high loyalty. This interaction might mean we see an uptick in the card Cut//Ribbons out of the R/B Aggro decks just to help deal with what I expect to be a powerhouse in the format.
Lastly, a test that Nicol Bolas straight fails is the Rekindling Phoenix test. Nicol Bolas doesn't have great ways to interact with this card, but that doesn't mean they won't likely be staring at each other until a race between the two breaks out.
I've got pretty high hopes for Nicol Bolas in what was the Grixis Energy shells of old. While Glint-Sleeve Siphoner has lost a lot of steam over the past few months because of the prevalence of Goblin Chainwhirler, that doesn't mean having it in your deck is any worse than drawing a Fatal Push against a control deck game one. Sometimes you have bad cards in a matchup in game one and sometimes they don't draw Goblin Chainwhirler. Overall, I think the death of X/1 creatures have been pretty exaggerated, and while it certainly stinks to have one picked off by the silly Goblin, it doesn't mean you have to abandon the really good ones all together.
A card I expect to be best friends with Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is none other than the Majesty of Death herself, Liliana.
What's so bad about getting your Nicol Bolas killed if you can just cast a planeswalker the next turn and reanimate the Elder Dragon once more, further taxing the opponents' hand? Not only does she do a great job of getting Nicol Bolas back to the battlefield immediately after it's been killed, but in a scenario when you untap with Liliana, Death's Majesty and then reanimate Nicol Bolas with seven untapped lands and get to transform him into Nicol Bolas, the Arisen, I can't think of many sweeter plays to make in Standard.
It's fun to think of this is theory, but what might a deck with these cards in it look like you might ask? Here's where my head's at.
- 3 Walking Ballista
- 2 Champion of Wits
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 3 Nicol Bolas, the Ravager
- 2 The Scarab God
While this list isn't perfect, it's a great start for what a deck with Nicol Bolas would want to look like. There's even the notion that you could go even deeper with playing main deck Duress to help clear a path for Nicol Bolas to stick as well as just emptying out the enemy hand. I'm not sure which is the right path, but it certainly feels like there's something there to all this.
One new and welcome addition to the planeswalker family we have in Standard is the brand new and improved Sarkhan, Fireblood.
Welcome to the three mana planeswalker club!
So what do we get here for our three mana? Well it's nothing too elegant but that doesn't mean it's not powerful. What is essentially a mix of Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Jaya Ballard, Sarkhan, Fireblood takes their mana producing ability and makes it Dragon specific while reducing the rummage ability from three cards to one card, but I'd still imagine that it's worth the power for the cost here. We're in a world where you'd like to develop your battlefield early and for those not looking to Goblin Chainwhirler people out of the game, this is a nice incentive and build around. The obvious thing to do is to use Sarkhan with a lot of Dragons and pump them out ahead of time. For the natural curve of Sarkhan on turn three and an untapped land on turn four, we're cooking with six mana for Dragons, so where does that lead us?
What might not be getting the most hype out of Core Set 2019 might be one of the most impactful cards for Standard over five mana. Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner does a fantastic job of defending against any card out of Mono Red Aggro and is immune to B/R's removal until you decide to interact with it. While the play pattern of they attack into it with a Hazoret the Fervent and then post combat finish it off since it dealt damage to the Hazoret the Fervent isn't ideal, at least you were able to get a block in and stave off a bunch of damage and they're now empty handed.
Sarkhan might not be a natural curve into Verix Bladewing but that doesn't mean that this planeswalker doesn't give the Broodmate Dragon from Dominaria new meaning. Two 4/4 Dragons is no joke and a lot of what decks in Standard have come down to is a bit of a grind fest where having an additional body certainly matters. I expect this to be more common post rotation in the fall, but it's worth keeping an eye on in the meantime.
So where does playing all these Dragons lead us? Some four or five color amalgamation that we have no business ever playing an untapped land? For sure, but that's not going to stop me!
- 1 Bone Dragon
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 3 Nicol Bolas, the Ravager
- 3 Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner
- 2 Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire
- 3 Verix Bladewing
We're certainly pushing the limits of what a mana base that intends on casting colors of all five colors in this world without Attune with Aether can manage. However, between Aether Hub, Servant of the Conduit, Sarkhan, Fireblood, and Dragon's Hoard fixing for all five colors, I'm sure that we can make it work. The rest of the deck being filled out with removal spells giving you time to cast your dragons might just be the right way to go about this. I'm not sure a deck like this will be making waves on the SCG Tour, but it's certainly something I'm going to try before the day is done.
Another way to take the Grixis angle is to use some of the new artifacts we've been given and put Nicol Bolas into a deck with Herald of Anguish to really stick it to them by emptying their hand that looks like this!
I'm not sure how great of an idea it is casting Servo Schematic and Maverick Thopterist right now for aforementioned reasons, but this deck is certainly sweet. Battle at the Bridge gives you a lot of game and time against the red decks in the format with Karn, Scion of Urza being a monster-making machine with how many artifacts this deck plays.
Fountain of Renewal is a cute little one here. While it will often function as a super delayed cantip, it goes a long way in this deck by helping cast turn three Maverick Thopterist as well as giving you a subtle life buffer ala Inventors Fair. While it might not seem like much, a playable one drop artifact is a lot of what this deck was missing and this fits the bill quite perfectly.
I'm sure I've only scratched the surface of the decks that we'll see Nicol Bolas, the Ravager appear in and it's the card I'm most excited about playing at SCG Worcester later this summer, but there's a ton more to cover and only so much time!
I'm a sucker for Dragons, what can I say?
This one has a lot of people on the fence and rightfully so. It might just be that my judgment is getting hazy or that I'm a time traveler from the past who would have been awestruck by a card like this back in the days of original Ravnica, but here we are! I do love me some incidental value and this card screams it. An important line of text missing from Bone Dragon I think was slightly overlooked was "activate this ability only when you could cast a sorcery". That simple line of text can make or break a card and this one lacking it certainly has me in the camp that Bone Dragon is likely to make it to the top tables in some form or another. The deck that I jumped to right off the bat is the good ole Esper God-Pharaoh's Gift deck that I built back when Ixalan first debuted. That deck would have killed for a card like Bone Dragon and wouldn't you know it, it's still a deck you can play today!
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Angel of Invention
- 3 Bone Dragon
- 4 Champion of Wits
- 2 Hostage Taker
- 2 Kitesail Freebooter
- 4 Minister of Inquiries
- 2 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 4 Seekers' Squire
Talk about a deck that puts a lot of cards into its graveyard! While it might not be clear the exact number of Bone Dragons you'd want in a deck like this, it certainly doesn't hurt to be able to discard this card to a Champion of Wits, mill it over with Minister of Inquiries, loot it away with Gate to the Afterlife trigger or, heck, even just put a worse 4/4 flying creature onto the battlefield with God-Pharaoh's Gift when you don't have an Angel of Invention or Kitesail Freebooter in the graveyard. Sometimes a little extra staying power is just what a deck needs and making use of all the extra lands and copies of Gate to the Afterlife that end up in your graveyard just from this deck playing out naturally seems like a perfect thing to help pressure an opponent holding up removal like Abrade or countermagic like Negate.
There aren't too many ways to fill the graveyard at the moment, but if I were actually looking way into the future, I would also realize that we're headed back to Ravnica and what's one of the Guilds of Ravnica? The Golgari! And what do the Golgari love to do? Mess with the graveyard! So even if Bone Dragon doesn't have a home now, you can rest assured that it will more than likely be making waves in the Overgrown Tomb come rotation!
The last card I want to touch on this week that has my inner conspiracy theorist wondering if my whole life has been a lie or not is Chromium, the Mutable.
While this card is certainly a splashy flashy Dragon that I'm a fan of, there's one aspect of the card I didn't notice that had me wondering if it was planned or just by accident or if the cosmos had dawned on me in a way that no one else had seen before.
Let's take a close look at exactly what you get when you discard a card to this card's effect.
Did they really???
Has this card really been terrorizing flashback Innistrad queues for this long?
It must be a coincidence right?
This Elder Dragon has been hiding in plain sight for years now and we've just not had the wits to see it! I mean it's clearly them right? Who else could it be?!?
Oh the humanity!!!