The Magic 2019 Core Set Report Card

SCG Tour star Todd Stevens was once an educator! So it’s only natural for him to hand out test grades on some of the most hyped preview cards from the new core set!

We’re right in the middle of Core Set 2019 preview season, and
this set already looks to be another big hit right after Dominaria
, which was one of the most well-received sets of the last half decade.
We’ve already seen reprints of fan-favorites, new planeswalkers, and plenty
of Dragons.

Today it’s back to the classroom for me, where I was previously a high
school teacher for eight years, with the new cards from #MTGM19 being the assignments
to be graded. I’ll be focusing on the impact I’m predicting the cards will
have on Constructed formats, particularly Standard, but I’ll also consider
other impacts the card may have. I’ll be taking everything in consideration
to give a letter grade using the traditional A through F system. Without
further ado, let’s get to this preliminary Core Set 2019 report

There’s no better way to start than with the biggest, baddest enemy of the
multiverse, Nicol Bolas. There’s a lot to break down here with Nicol Bolas,
the Ravager, which as a four mana 4/4 flyer is already close to passing the
bar to be Standard playable, but that’s not close to being all Nicol Bolas,
the Ravager has to offer. This looks to be the flagship card of the set and
therefore, will be the one I’ll discuss the most.

When Nicol Bolas, the Ravager enters the battlefield, each opponent
discards a card.”

This first sentence on the card has been the most overlooked in my opinion,
and I believe it to be incredibly strong. When you play a 4/4 flyer, your
opponent is under pressure to deal with it before it kills them, which
doesn’t usually take too long. Having to discard a card as well simply
increases that pressure, which makes other follow up threats even better.
It’s much more difficult to have enough answers for your opponent’s
threats, or your own threats to keep up, when you have to discard a card as
soon as your opponent plays one of theirs.

Enter the battlefield effects are particularly strong in the Grixis colors
as there are many efficient ways to reanimate creatures with The Eldest
Reborn, Liliana, Death’s Majesty, and The Scarab God. Unfortunately, if you
use The Scarab God, you won’t be able to use the last ability as you’ll
only have a token that’s a copy of the front side and therefore, can’t
transform. However, the curve into Liliana, Death’s Majesty following a
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager that was killed is particularly appealing, as you
can reanimate Nicol Bolas right away to get another discard trigger.

Even simply playing a turn four Nicol Bolas into another on turn five,
assuming there was a removal spell for the first, at a minimum gives you a
free Mind Rot that will be difficult for opponents to overcome. There will
be times when you draw a Nicol Bolas, the Ravager in the late game and your
opponent doesn’t have any cards left in their hand to discard, but in that
scenario you shouldn’t be worried about the Elder Dragon finishing the game

I would be very happy playing a four mana 4/4 flyer with that enters the
battlefield ability, but the reason why Nicol Bolas is going to be a
Standard all-star is because of the final ability, which basically reads
“4UBR: Win the game.”

It’s hard to imagine a battlefield where Nicol Bolas, the Arisen doesn’t
pull you incredibly far ahead when you transform into it. It has card draw,
removal, and can produce more impactful threats while starting at a very
high loyalty. Then there’s the -12 ability, which ends the game in two
turns if, for some reason, you haven’t put it away yet with all the extra
cards from the +2.

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is a perfectly fine creature for Standard play on
its own, and having the ability to transform into Nicol Bolas, the Arisen
gives this card the upside to be one of the absolute best in Standard.

Grade: A+

I wasn’t too impressed with Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants when I first read
the card, but I’ve been warming up to it recently. The +1 ability looked
weak to me before, but the more I think about it, the more I appreciate it.
Ross Merriam
wrote earlier in the week
how well it pairs with History of Benalia and I’m also excited to play it
in a G/W shell with Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger. The problem
with those two cards are that often times their power and toughness aren’t
large enough to be impactful enough, but Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants can
help make sure that isn’t the case.

Unfortunately, Standard isn’t filled with many powerful two-drops that want
to take advantage of the -2 ability, but that can still be built around. As
far as Modern goes, I could see Counters Company taking advantage of the -2
ability to return Devoted Druid, Vizier of Remedies, or Duskwatch Recruiter
back to the battlefield. The +1 ability can also turn the weak creatures in
that deck into formidable attackers, as well as reset a Kitchen Finks with
a persist counter. Overall, this looks to be a solid planeswalker that will
find its niche in the Constructed formats.

Grade: B

The bar for a five mana planeswalker is incredibly high, but I believe
Vivien Reid passes it. We’ve seen how good Vraska, Relic Seeker is in
Standard with having a minus ability that destroys artifacts and
enchantments, and Vivien Reid can do the same thing. Only destroying a
creature with flying is obviously a downgrade from any creature, but you
can expect a downgrade in a card that has a lower converted mana cost and
is only one color instead of two. Still, having a Naturalize/Plummet hybrid
ability on a green planeswalker is certainly welcome.

The +1 ability is more difficult to judge. Sure it’s a good source of both
card advantage and selection, but you’re only able to select creatures and
lands. This is basically the exact opposite of activating Azcanta, the
Sunken Ruin. Usually card selection abilities are best served for
interactive spells since finding the specific one you need is valuable,
whereas creatures are generally interchangeable. With that said, I do
believe the +1 ability will be good enough to make Vivien Reid a solid role
player in Standard, and I could see it replacing Nissa, Vital Force in many
green decks, thanks to the card selection and removal.

Grade: B+

I know everyone’s excited for Angel tribal after seeing this card, but I’m
not sold. There’s several three damage burn spells being played in
Standard, and I’m worried Resplendent Angel won’t make the cut as a 3/3 for
three. If it does, though, it will be on the back of Lyra Dawnbringer,
which conveniently gains five life when it gets into combat, fulfilling
Resplendent Angel’s first clause.

Lyra Dawnbringer also turns Resplendent Angel into a 4/4, and therefore the
best time to actually play Resplendent Angel may not be on the third turn,
but instead on turn six when you’re attacking with Lyra Dawnbringer. So
even though I’m not sold on Resplendent Angel as a three-drop for Standard
yet, it does fill a hole on the curve of white midrange decks ahead of
Shalai, Voice of Plenty and Lyra Dawnbringer.

Grade: C+

These two cards are both wonderful reprints for Commander players, and I’m
really glad to see them here even though they won’t have much, if any,
Standard application. We already have a Crucible of Worlds variant, Ramunap
Excavator, which unfortunately doesn’t see much (if any) Standard play at
the moment, and I don’t expect Crucible of Worlds to see any more.
Omniscience is simply too expensive without having any realistic ways to
get it on to the battlefield for cheap. Despite that, I still love both of
these reprints for the Commander players who have needed them.

Crucible of Worlds Grade: A

Omniscience Grade: B

Just like with the previous two cards, Scapeshift is being reprinted to
help ease the demand from Modern and Commander, and is most likely not
intended to impact Standard. However, this mythic with beautiful art may
actually see some play.

Having a Tatyova, Benthic Druid on the battlefield when you cast Scapeshift
is better than casting a Sphinx’s Revelation, and therefore, I could
realistically see this combination being part of a big mana deck. You not
only get to replace all of your lands with the best lands in your deck, but
then for each land, you gain a life and draw a card. The cards you draw
should also be a high percentage of non-lands, considering you just put a
bunch of lands onto the battlefield from your library.

There’s also The Mending of Dominaria, which can return the lands you
sacrificed to give you a substantial mana advantage which you can use to
cast all of the extra cards or a finisher like Sylvan Awakening. Will these
cards combine together to make a deck in Standard? The odds aren’t likely,
but there’s certainly potential here with the mix of power and synergy
these cards offer. It’s certainly something to keep an eye out for when
rotation happens in the fall and Standard naturally powers down by having
less sets.

Not only was Scapeshift a good card to reprint for other Constructed
formats, but I also believe it has potential to see more Standard play than
people are talking about right now. It was a great option to reprint.

Grade: A

We’ve seen many control mirror-breakers over the years, but there’s
certainly more buzz around Chromium, the Mutable, and for good reason.
Flash, flying, can’t be countered, and the ability to gain hexproof on one
card makes it incredibly hard for reactive decks to deal with and should
take over the game as soon as it’s cast. Thankfully, it also costs seven
mana and isn’t necessarily effective against the aggressive strategies of
the format, and that’s exactly what I want from my control mirror-breakers.
I’m also glad that it doesn’t survive the mass removal of the format like
Fumigate or Settle the Wreckage and therefore, playing an answer for it in
control mirrors is still reasonable.

Grade: B+

Having hexproof for a moment is certainly nice as that means you know your
six-drop won’t die to a Ravenous Chupacabra until you’ve at least dealt
damage with it once, but Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner is lacking compared to
the other Elder Dragons. Flying, vigilance, and trample aren’t abilities
that are good enough for a six mana card in Standard these days.

Grade: D

Vaevictic Asmadi, the Dire has an incredibly interesting ability when it
attacks. Besides the more obvious upside of getting rid of hard to deal
with permanents from your opponent, you do need to actually choose targets
for each player when it attacks, which can be a downside. If there’s
nothing else on the battlefield you may sacrifice your own land for no gain
and then turn your opponent’s land into a threat. Having an attack trigger
that may actually hurt you, as well as being simply a 6/6 for six mana with
no protection or immediate battlefield impact, means Vaevictic Asmadi isn’t
a card I’m excited to sleeve up for Standard.

Grade: D

I’ll have to say that Brennan DeCandio

is a much bigger fan

of Bone Dragon than I am. Seven is a significantly high number of cards to
exile in order to return Bone Dragon to the battlefield, and I don’t
believe that’s a clause one would be able to obtain more than once in a
regular game of Standard. Considering the quality of the competition for
five mana cards in Standard, I don’t believe Bone Dragon will make the cut
since it has no effect on the battlefield and requires a steep cost in both
mana and cards in graveyard to return to the battlefield.

Grade: C-

After seeing Damping Sphere from Dominaria, we have two more
incredibly narrow and somewhat baffling hate cards printed in Core Set 2019. These are obviously printed to affect Modern and
not Standard, but I don’t know who these cards are meant to be for. I guess
they’re meant to be hate cards against Storm and big mana decks, but both
are as easily answered as Damping Sphere and are similarly not reliable as
a hate card for those decks.

Grade: F

Death Baron is a very good reprint for the casual crowd, and I’m glad to
see it in the set even though I don’t believe we’ll be seeing a new Zombie
deck anytime soon in Standard. I’m not sold giving Bone Dragon deathtouch
is the thing it’s missing either.

Grade: B

Another card not printed for Standard, I believe Elvish Clancaller will be
an upgrade in Modern Elves decks. Unfortunately, the G/W Company player in
me hates playing against Elves and therefore, I’m not too happy about this
card being printed even though it’s a fine addition to the set.

Selfish Grade: F

Realistic Grade: B

Mistcaller has a ton of potential in older formats, but most likely as a
sideboard card. I’m not sure it’s good enough for the maindeck of Merfolk
in Modern, but I like it as a sideboard option to stop Collected Company,
Prized Amalgam, Living End, and Through the Breach among others. I’ve seen
some people mention that it stops Aether Vial, but it will only stop one
activation as you don’t actually need to put a creature onto the
battlefield when you activate Aether Vial, so I wouldn’t recommend it
there. In Legacy this could be an option for blue decks that struggle with
Sneak and Show and even Vintage decks could play it against the Oath of
Druids decks.

Grade: B+

So which cards am I over- or underrating? Do you think Nicol Bolas, the
Ravager is as good I as I do? Which reprinted card are you most excited
about? In any case, the return of Core Sets is looking good with #MTGM19 looking to like
yet another well put together set following the success of Dominaria.