Wizards has decided to reinstate the inclusion of Core Sets into the new set rotation. Previously, Core Sets were released intermittently throughout Magic’s history, typically in the Summer, to augment the current Standard metagame.
Core Sets do not traditionally have a theme or push certain mechanics. They are also usually more “beginner friendly” in that they have a plethora of generic creatures or very straight forward effects. In the bigger picture, Core Sets generally print a bunch of the generic glue cards for Standard, the standard Standard cards if you will. The Negates, Lightning Strikes, and Llanowar Elves all fit under this umbrella.
With Wizards now abandoning the block structure of new sets, despite announcing a return to Ravnica that will be three sets long, the Core Set will give more space for varied cards in sets going forward. Wizards has printed Negate, Cancel, and Opt in multiple sets that were simultaneously legal. Now they can all be lumped in to M19.
As I usually do with these lists, I’m going to discuss several cards and what impact they may have (good or bad). We know that all of these cards, for Standard, will continue to live under the Chainwhirler regime (at least until rotation), so the Standard shakeup in the fall could drastically change the outlook of this set (particularly any X/1’s).
Dangerous Cards If They Can Find a Home
The first thing I noticed in reviewing the full spoiler was the M19 seems to be lacking the truly powerful punch that many of the recently released sets produced. That’s not to say that some of these cards won’t show some power later on, but at face value I feel like the top cards in M19 are not as powerful as say, Teferi, Rekindling Phoenix, or Scarab God. Famous last words.
Either way, I think there are two cards that have received considerable attention so far – the new Nicol Bolas and Resplendent Angel.
This iteration of Nicol Bolas starts as a regular ol’ legendary creature. A 4/4 flying for four that takes a card when it enters the battlefield. That’s fine enough for inclusion, although its Grixis color requirements may make it difficult to cast aggressively. But I don’t think Bolas will be aggressive, instead it will settle into a nice mid-range home, possibly alongside The Scarab God for the next three months (that’s scary).
If left alone (big if), Nicol Bolas can then flip into his planeswalker form, and the game is basically over at that point. Seven mana is nothing to sneeze at, so it’s not certain that this thing will ever flip. Now, Bolas is susceptible to the same hate that kills off Lyra, and is also a little too small to fight Lyra straight up. This could be a cause for concern, and it really comes down to whether Bolas can adequately threaten to flip. I am honestly a little hesitant on the flip Bolas, not because he can’t be good, but because he might not find a home.
Resplendent Angel is another decently sized flyer that can come down early. A 3/3 flying for three in white is a decent rate, but the money is really in the ability. Gaining 5 life is not necessarily easy, but paired with Lyra, Resplendent Angel ends the game. Resplendent -> Shalai -> Lyra makes Angel tribal a real thing in Standard.
Resplendent Angel’s ability can make it a threat all on its own. Six mana is a lot, but the ability allowing the Angel to create a new 4/4 makes Resplendent Angel a threat as a late game topdeck, despite being a three drop. By presenting a threat all along the curve, I think Resplendent Angel can really be powerful if a white angel (or life gain deck) can be viable in a RB Midrange UW Control dominant metagame.
The Return of Zombies?
Zombies took down the Pro Tour (LINK) with Amonkhet’s release, but after the rotation, Zombies haven’t been seen at any competitive level. That may be about to change with several big Zombie additions in M19.
First is the popular zombie lord Death Baron which pumps and modifies each of the zombies. This can go along with Lord of the Accursed and even Metallic Mimic to allow zombies to mimic the Merfolk gameplan of overloading the board with lords.
However, zombies also has Liliana’s Mastery, which acts as lord AND gives board presence. This is a curve topper, but really helps keep the zombie march alive in the late game, and can take back board if the zombie player is behind.
M19 also gives Liliana, Untouched by Death, Graveyard Marshal, and Diregraf Ghoul to bolster the zombie curve. Diregraf is a strong one drop that can be immediately threatening with lords. Graveyard Marshal is no slouch with 3 power, but has real money in its ability to keep up the pressure which an aggressive zombie strategy really needs. Using extra mana, especially in the mid-late game adds efficiency. Lastly, the new Liliana is just begging for a zombie deck. Her +1 gives some reach to finish off weak opponents, and her -2 helps protect herself or take down large creatures (like Bolas perhaps?). Her -3, which she can use immediately, helps re-establish the board.
If you couldn’t tell, this theoretical zombie deck has aggression, threats along the mana curve, reach, and the ability to reassert board presence with multiple different cards. That combination is ripe for at least some presence on the competitive level, especially if board wipes are not popular.
Underrated Cards of the Set
I haven’t seen a lot of love given to Isareth the Awakener, but I think the wizard has the ability to be a surprisingly strong card in the right strategy.
First, Isareth could be a part of the aforementioned zombie strategy, giving a decent body that’s a great blocker while also recurring smaller creatures on the battlefield.
I also think Isareth could slot in to the W/B decks that have been utilizing the Knights from Dominaria. Both knights are cheap two drops, so they are easy enough to recur with Isareth. Deathtouch is a nice benefit to help ward off Steel Leef Champions and other large ground creatures.
I think there is also the potential for a combo strategy that might make use of the recursion. Dumping small creatures into the graveyard and then having access to them can generate some value and advantage in certain spots.
I think Isareth will be a card that will get better after rotation, when the R/B menace might subside, and potentially Golgari or Rakdos or Orzhov guilds give the wizard some more to play with.
Addressing Modern in M19
Wizards has been quite explicit that they are using a portion of the M19 slots to accommodate the Modern format. Some people might be miffed by this strategy, thinking that Modern should be addressed through supplemental sets and not Standard-based sets. Personally, I like that they are using the printing powerhouse of a Standard set to increase supply, while also putting in some Modern specific cards.
To begin, they reprinted both Scapeshift and Crucible of Worlds. Both cards needed a reprint in paper and now they’ve got it on a Standard set that will print a bunch of boxes. The price on both will accordingly recede. However, both cards are pretty much useless in Standard, with Scapeshift pretty glaringly so. While Crucible of Worlds might have some Desert synergy, without a Valakut or other land-based strategy, Scapeshift was simply about access – and I’m OK with that.
In addition, M19 included two Modern specific cards – Isolate and Infernal Reckoning.
Isolate provides yet another white sideboard card that can hit Goblin Guide, Noble Hierarch, Death’s Shadow, Aether Vial etc.. All of these are highly valuable targets that need immediate answers. White does have Path to Exile as its premium one card removal, so Isolate has some tough competition.
Infernal Reckoning gives black a great answer to Eldrazi. Thought-Knot Seer gone in the poof of one black mana and gives you four life. Kills the big baddies too if they get cheated into play such as Worldbreaker. Black has Fatal Push, but Reckoning is a better answer in the Eldrazi matchup. I could see this card used in the sideboards of Jund in trying to get fair value against such decks.
Modern is format where the sideboard slots are incredibly important. While both cards could be played main deck, the variety and flexibility of their competition will make it a tough sell. White currently has some of the best sideboard hate in Modern, so Reckoning is more likely to actually get some use.
A Couple of Cards To Keep An Eye On…
Reclamation Sage – Solid all around answer in green that works right away. Will be good against White’s enchantment based removal.
Dark Dweller Oracle – Can be value or potentially some kind of combo piece.
Sai, Master Thopterist – Another potential combo enabler, maybe for Eternal formats.
Tezzeret, Artifice Master – Plays nice with Karn, but needs some more artifacts and for Abrade to rotate.
Banefire – An old classic returns, and will give the glut of control deck fits as a finisher.
M19 has been generally hard for me to evaluate. It adds relevant cards to multiple formats, but seemingly added cards that need to test the metagame waters, instead of brandishing outright power. I think that, in general, this is a good thing and an interesting approach by Wizards now that Kaladesh and its high power will be rotating soon.
I haven’t even touched on all the rest of the Elder Dragons or the other planeswalkers, but I think both contain some interesting fodder for EDH and Commander. I think I will continue to build out both my G/W and G/B decks, and potentially explore B/W, as I feel like it might be have the right mix of answers in the Standard metagame.
What cards are you excited to see? Which ones do you think will end up as the chase cards of the set? Comment below!