Like many others, I find that the introduction of a new set into Standard is one of the most exciting times to play Magic: The Gathering. With its small card pool, Standard can change significantly based on a few new cards entering the fray. I like to approach this point in a format a little bit differently than most, however. Rather than picking up many of the exciting new cards or strategies I expect everyone else to be playing, I like scouring sets for their hidden gems in hopes of finding something special that others haven't tried. One of my favorite ways to do this is to kick the tires of some older lists and see if a new set might have something to add.
The first deck I want to look at is Black-Green Undergrowth. This deck works by using cards such as Stitcher's Supplier and Glowspore Shaman to mill your own library in order to get the most out of your cards with the undergrowth mechanic. The deck is able to get on the board early to either block or pressure the opponent, then can grind into the late game by looping Molderhulks with Memorial to Folly. Gabriel Nassif played this archetype quite a bit on his stream in Guilds of Ravnica Standard, but the last couple of sets were not particularly kind to it, as other decks and strategies got new tools but this unfortunately did not. Core Set 2020, however, has a few cards that look to slot well into the deck so I'm excited to try it out.
Elvish Reclaimer hasn't seemed to be the topic of much discussion, but it's still a card that I'm pretty excited about. In this deck, it gets to serve a dual purpose as both enabler and payoff. Having three lands in your graveyard isn't too hard to achieve with cards like Stitcher's Supplier and Glowspore Shaman making sure your graveyard is stocked, and the 3/4 body can act as a legitimate threat to your opponent's planeswalkers or life total. Meanwhile, the ability to tutor up any land has utility beyond just growing Elvish Reclaimer. You can find Memorial to Folly to give you access to any creature in your graveyard or look for Temple of Malady to both fix your mana and help draw into something such as a potent sideboard card. That's a lot of punch for a single green mana.
Gorging Vulture is another card that hasn't seen much fanfare. This one makes a little more sense to me, as we've come to expect a bit more from a three-mana creature than a 2/2 flyer that gains just a hair more than 1 life on average. That said, it's less important for cards in a deck like this to be individually powerful, as the goal is not to beat the opponent with superior card quality, but to have the deck as a whole do something more powerful than the sum of its parts. By running a critical mass in self-mill creatures, we allow the undergrowth cards to reach their potential.
Probably the most interesting addition to the mix is Embodiment of Agonies. Besides having the coolest (or maybe just creepiest?) flavor text in the set, this card also has the possibility of being an absolutely enormous flyer for a very low mana cost. Still, enabling this card asks a lot of your deck construction, as you need ways to fill your graveyard and varied casting costs throughout your deck. For my initial draft of this deck, I've deliberately chosen to have different casting costs in order to maximize its impact.
Rounding out the new additions to the deck are Cavalier of Night and Cavalier of Thorns. I included a single copy of each of these cards as they beef up Embodiment of Agonies, and because with all of the self-mill we have a reasonable shot to find them and buy them back with Memorial to Folly if games go long.
The second deck I want to look at is Elves. As one of the most beloved creature types in Magic's history, I don't think there's ever been a time where a card in Standard said something along the lines of "Elves you control get +1/+1" and people didn't try to make it work. Since the printing of Elvish Clancaller in Core Set 2019, I've seen Elf decks occasionally popping into Magic Online's 5-0 decklist dumps, but so far these lists have just been a flash in the pan. I'm curious to see if the addition of some new cards can make this tribe a little more viable.
Icon of Ancestry is particularly good here as it both acts as an anthem for your aggressive starts and can help dig to more action in games where you might otherwise flood out. While some Glorious Anthem effects encourage you to overextend into sweepers, Icon gives an effective outlet for mana when its controller is ahead on board enough to want to play around Kaya's Wrath.
Vivien, Arkbow Ranger is another new card I'm excited to try out in this deck. Its +1 ability does a nice job of increasing your board presence, and also prevents opponents from chump blocking effectively by granting evasion in the form of trample. Its counters also synergize with both Growth-Chamber Guardian and Incubation Druid. Vivien, Arkbow Ranger's -3 is perhaps its most important ability, as it gives this deck something that most mono-green decks are sorely lacking: interaction. Traditionally, big creatures like Lyra Dawnbringer could stop this deck in its tracks, and planeswalkers like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria could force it to retarget attacks away from the opponent's life total. Vivien answers those cards so you can get back to turning your creatures sideways at your opponent's face.
Vivien's -5 ability makes for interesting deckbuilding decisions. Unlike Karn, the Great Creator and Mastermind's Acquisition, Vivien, Arkbow Ranger won't give you access to your sideboard every time it resolves, which puts even more pressure on limiting the number of cards you have in your sideboard with the intention of fetching. For initial playtesting, I'd make sure to have a wide array of cards to be able to grab, but by the time I'd be ready to sleeve up, I'd want to limit it to 3-4 cards I'm likely to want. Some potential new-to-Standard sideboard choices added in Core Set 2020 include Loaming Shaman, Voracious Hydra and Shifting Ceratops.
The last deck I want to look at is perhaps equally off-meta as the others I've talked about in this article but has the distinction of actually seeing play in a professional setting. I'm referring to Blue-Red Wizards, a deck Andrew Cuneo registered for the MPL Weekly competition. If you ask him, he'll insist that the deck's name is 'Izzards.' The deck is chock full of Wizards, allowing Wizard's Lightning and Wizard's Retort to do reasonable Lightning Bolt and Counterspell impressions, and also runs cheap spells either for doubling with Dreadhorde Arcanist and Naru Meha, Master Wizard or for pumping your entire team for enormous swings with Adeliz, the Cinder Wind in play.
Lightning Stormkin seems like a clear upgrade over the Goblin Electromancers that Cuneo used in his MPL Weekly list. Electromancer's cost-reduction ability was barely utilized in the deck in the first place and Lightning Stormkin's haste and flying are both great at putting a quick clock on the opponent. Oh yeah, it's also a Wizard.
I suspect Cloudkin Seer's presence in this list surprises most people. I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting to draft as many copies of this card as I can get my hands on, but is a 2/1 flyer and a card really enough to cut the mustard in Constructed? As with Gorging Vulture in Black-Green Undergrowth, I'm willing to take a gamble.
The final new addition to this deck from Core Set 2020 is Unsummon. While this card is unassuming on the surface and is enough worse than Vapor Snag to not have seen a ton of competitive play when it was around in the past, I believe that it slides perfectly into this deck. Doubling the effect with either Dreadhorde Arcanist or Naru Meha, Master Wizard lets you get a huge tempo swing against opposing creature decks—especially when you're able to Wizard's Retort a creature you've bounced when your opponent casts it again. If your opponent isn't playing creatures, you can still use the card to save your Wizards from removal spells—I can tell you now that I'm eager to pick up the Cloudkin Seer that my opponent has reluctantly pointed a removal spell at.
These are just a few of the directions you can go based on new cards that got added in Core Set 2020. While in the past I've found Core Sets to be rather bland, it feels like they've done a great job with this one, as I'm genuinely excited to brew with this set and think it will have a real impact on Standard. If you have any comments, compliments, or criticisms, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter, or if you get a chance, stop by my Twitch channel. Wizards of the Coast has invited me to take part in the Early Access Streamer Event on the same day this article goes live, where I'll be testing out these decks and others. Feel free to stop by my stream in the evening or check out my VODs later on if you want to see how one of the decks fares!
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