The Very Best 19 From Core Set 2019

This isn’t a core set like the olden days. This is a whole new level. Ben Friedman has a nitpick or two, but in general, this set is stacked with cards for multiple formats! So how does he rank the best of the best?

Most of the time, when a new set comes around, I do a Top Ten list, or else
act curmudgeonly and just hate on what seems initially to be a weak set
with few applications in competitive Constructed Magic.

That is not the case with Core Set 2019. This core set is
incredible, with several cards that could make their impact felt on
Standard, Modern, or even Legacy. With most sets, that number lies in the
single digits, but with Core Set 2019 it seemed appropriate to
stretch and try to find no less than nineteen powerful playables that
demand consideration going forward.

I was all set to write up a massive
Grixis Death’s Shadow sideboard guide, but that will have to wait. It’s
time to ooh and ahh over some previews!

(Dis)honorable Mention One:
Detection Tower and Amulet of Safekeeping

As my grandmother of blessed memory would say, “feh.”

These are too narrow
for a core set, and a pair of narrow hate cards in a single set is just a bad
look. New players will be perplexed and annoyed when they open such strange
cards. At least Damping Sphere hates on Tron, Storm, and Ironworks at the
same time. Isolation Tower is just narrow G/W Hexproof hate that isn’t good
enough to put in any deck (colorless lands being a real cost in most decks,
and better sideboard options existing in most colors).

Amulet of
Safekeeping is just worse than Damping Sphere, as it’s so much narrower in
Modern. It sort of hates on Mardu Pyromancer in addition to Storm, until
you realize that Mardu packs all those Kolaghan’s Commands to make you look
stupid. If Amulet of Safekeeping had hexproof itself, or even drew a card
if it became the target of a spell or ability, then maybe we’d have seen
something worth playing.

(Dis)honorable Mention Two:

Well, now I know I won’t be losing to Aetherworks Marvel anytime soon! In
all seriousness, this card could have been printed in Amonkhet or Hour of Devastation and singlehandedly fixed Standard. Instead,
it’s the Kataki, War’s Wage of Affinity Standard. Maybe it can still fight
Walking Ballistas for a couple of months. Ah, well.

On to the good ones!

19: Scapeshift

This (and the next card on the list) are awe-worthy for one reason and one
reason only:

It’s exciting when Wizards of the Coast reprints an expensive, narrow,
Modern-playable rare that has somehow escaped reprint for over a decade.
Keeping Modern affordable is a noble goal, and some of these niche rares
have had players screaming for a reprint for a while now. It drives sales
of the set in a slightly-too-obvious way, but whatever. I could see a
future where WotC has completely milked their reprints so hard that they
have no more exciting ones left in the holster, but with proper management
this is a beautiful way to bolster revenue while increasing the supply of
Modern’s niche expensive rares.

18: Crucible of Worlds

Similarly, Crucible is a reprint that’s been necessary for some time now.
The card is playable in every format, it’s a casual and Commander
superstar, and it was too damn expensive. As long as WotC sprinkles these
in new sets conservatively, I’m happy to see a few marquee reprints every
so often.

17: Remorseful Cleric

This is a playable, maindeckable hate card. Unlike those crappy narrow
rares in the (dis)honorable mention section, Remorseful Cleric is solid in
Modern Bant Spirits, Counters Company, and any white aggressive deck that
needs more graveyard hate that isn’t Rest in Peace. If Standard
God-Pharaoh’s Gift comes roaring back for some reason, Remoserful Cleric is
a nice pickup to fight that as well. All in all, a useful hate card that is
both elegant and powerful.

16: Mentor of the Meek

Oketra’s Monument, how I pine for thee. If Goblin Chainwhirler somehow gets
banned in the next month or so, this deck will be extremely powerful, and
these two cards will be at the center of it all. Todd Anderson described it
better than I ever could
, and he has a lot more experience with the archetype than I do, but
suffice it to say that Mentor is powerful enough to be a centerpiece of an
aggressive white deck going forward, if there’s room for such an archetype
in Standard.

15: Arcades, the Strategist

Doran, the Siege Tower fans rejoice! If Sylvan Caryatid makes its way back
into Standard in the fall, this will be a potent deck indeed. As it
currently stands, this is the Commander entry in the list, and it just
looks like a ton of fun. Winning with Walls is always a ton of fun, and
this is the long-awaited Wall lord we never knew we needed.

14: Infernal Reckoning

Die, Eldrazi scum! I would have preferred for this to draw a card instead,
as I like my sideboard hate to be a little more of a punch in the gut than
this, but gaining some life isn’t bad. This is how you kill a Thought-Knot
Seer in style. The flavor is so much better than those crappy hate cards up
above that I’m willing to forgive a slightly underpowered targeted answer.

13: Bone Dragon

Bone Dragon is ready

! Ready to win sideboarded games for Dredge in Modern once an opponent
slams a few hate cards. Part of the appeal of this card is that, like
Archfiend of Ifnir for Living End, it wins games when things are going well and when things aren’t. Opponents need to prepare for the
degenerate game plan of graveyard decks, but they might just lose to a
couple of 5/4 fliers if they cut too much of the normal plan. Dredge isn’t
particularly well-positioned in current Modern, but there are easily
scenarios where it comes roaring back for a few weeks, more so if it has
the right tools. Bone Dragon is one of those tools.

12: Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma

Cost reduction is very, very dangerous. Goreclaw makes your Glorybringer
cheaper, your Regisaur Alpha cheaper, your Thought-Knot Seers and Reality
Smashers cheaper, and your Ghalta, Primal Hungers a lot cheaper.
G/R Monsters isn’t going anywhere after rotation. It might just get way,
way better.

11: Death Baron

Is there still any love for Zombies? This card and the next one could be
the pieces needed to bring the team back together for a brief reunion. Dark
Salvation is, unfortunately, long-gone, but the Amonkhet squad may
be somewhat playable given a new lord and…

10: Graveyard Marshal

…another source of resilience to removal, not unlike Relentless Dead.
Graveyard Marshal keeps the beats coming with excess mana while providing a
respectable 3/2 body in its own right. Diregraf Ghoul comes along for the
ride, and you suddenly have a reasonable swarm-based aggro deck that
doesn’t instantly fold to Chainwhirler.

9: Runic Armasaur

Hey! A creature with five toughness! This one won’t fold to
Glorybringer or Chandra’s -3 ability, although in Standard there are a lot
fewer ways to get value out of its ability. No, this is a Modern card, one
to add to the massive pile of options Collected Company decks get to try.
Runic Armasaur blocks well and punishes both fetchlands and most of the
Affinity deck, so it could be worth a spot or two. It’s not stellar against
Hollow One, Humans, or most control decks, but the potential is there.

8: Elvish Clancaller

Modern Elves wasn’t in extreme need of a new way to buff the team, but the
combination of a use for excess mana and a Lord is not to be
underestimated. You can call up a heck of a lot of power with a Clancaller,
a Heritage Druid, and a few stragglers. I’m not sure what the optimal build
of Modern Elves is, but Clancaller is on a short list of candidates for new
upgrades that could push the deck into the top tier. With Collected Company
and now Clancaller, the deck isn’t likely to run out of things to do with
its mana.

7: Thorn Lieutenant

Speaking of things to do with excess mana, Thorn Lieutenant offers a body
with a bit of built-in resilience to removal as well as a way to turn
excess mana into a win. The rate on this one is respectable, and though it
doesn’t immediately stick out as good enough for Modern Elves, you never
know if Standard is going to have enough pieces to make the deck work.
There’s a world where Llanowar Elves, Thorn Lieutenant, and Elvish
Clancaller comprise a fearsome aggro deck in Standard. Don’t sleep on these

6: Mystic Archaeologist

Azure Mage, eat your heart out! Another way to use excess mana, Mystic
Archaeologist joins Search for Azcanta and Arguel’s Blood Fast as an
extremely potent sideboard option for control mirrors in Standard. When a
foolish opponent cuts much of their cheap removal, this little
archaeologist can go to work on their life total and draw you a couple of
much-needed bonus cards in the midgame during the opponent’s end step. This
one is going to define a cat-and-mouse game between Esper, U/W, and U/B
Control decks going forward. How aggro can you go?

5: Resplendent Angel

Now we enter the trio of white cards that can bring the color through fall
rotation with some power still under the hood. This is another great
base-rate card, like Thorn Lieutenant and Graveyard Marshal. If the
opponent ever taps out, you can swing the game massively in your favor. If
they don’t, you can just continue to beat down with a relatively
well-proportioned 3/3 flier. Lifelink in the midgame can close the game out
against aggro, and the extra threat it generates is absolutely terrifying
against control. Incidentally, Lyra Dawnbringer just got that much better
with these at her side. If WotC decides to print a few cheaper Angel
creatures in the next few sets, Angel tribal might be a real thing.
Wouldn’t that be a neat Standard?

4: Cleansing Nova

If you ask me, sweeping an Affinity or Lantern player’s battlefield away
from them is worthy of a rendition of Champagne Supernova. In Standard,
once Fumigate is gone, this will be the go-to way to reset a full
battlefield, but the modality of the card gives it utility beyond that
straightforward plan. Five mana may be too much to ask for in Modern, but
depending on the direction the format moves, a split card of Wrath of God
and Fracturing Gust is nothing to sneeze at. Of course, if the next block
ends up having a lot of enchantments (a la Theros and the
Eidolons) then Cleansing Nova gets even better. A surefire staple.

3: Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants

Ajani is no slouch when it comes to beefing up some white aggressive
starts. He’s not quite on Gideon, Ally of Zendikar’s level, but Ajani has a
lot going for him. If you have a few solid creatures on the battlefield,
you can boost them through blockers. If your opponent sweeps your creatures
out from under you, Ajani will bring them back to keep up the pressure. I
expect that after fall rotation, it’s going to be white aggro at the
forefront of the format. Nothing wrong with that, but first there’s a card
with a little bit of resentment behind it, a card that won’t let red
quietly rotate into the sunset without a dominating performance first.

2: Banefire

Suck on that, control players! Red isn’t going anywhere. For the next three
months, this is going to be a Red format, and there’s not much to be done
about it. Nice Settle the Wreckage, loser! With Treasure Map, excess lands
gifted via Settle the Wreckage, and a naturally high land count in most of
these red decks, Banefires for ten or more are going to ruin Teferi’s day
until rotation. Looks like it’s going to be a red hot summer, indeed.

But after the summer, there’s something dark on the horizon. Winter is
coming, in the form of the biggest, baddest villain around.

1: Nicol Bolas, the Ravager

He has risen. The most powerful Planeswalker ever printed, stapled on the
back side of a Siege Rhino-level card. On the front, you get a 4/4 flier
for four mana with a free card built in. Then, if the opponent doesn’t deal
with it, you threaten an unbelievable flip. In the late game, you can just
slam this card and immediately flip it to reanimate one of his dead
brethren, knocking two cards out of the opponent’s hand and presenting two
unbeatable threats. What?

In all seriousness, this card isn’t going to dominate Standard immediately,
because four toughness isn’t the best place to be against Chandra and
Glorybringer. Mark my words, though. Nicol Bolas is going to be Standard’s
biggest villain at some point in the next year or so. It is inevitable.