Initially when I first looked at Core Set 2019, I wasn't sure how much impact it would have on Standard. After all, when we look at Core Sets over the years the cards are often pretty generic, but this is different than any we have seen before. There are a number of cards in this set that that are far from straightforward, and are built with very specific archetypes in mind. Rather than go over the brand-new decks that were created – which certainly exist and you can find in Craig's article here.
One of the strategies that has access to a number of tools is White-Black Knights. Previously the deck had access to the two-drop Knights and History of Benalia, but it is possible to go even harder on tribal synergy. Lets take a look at a recent undefeated list from a league.
This is the most dedicated Knight tribal deck I have ever seen. Knight of Malice and Knight of Grace are obvious, but the deck also is playing Paladin of Atonement. Paladin of Atonement is an Ixalan card that many saw only for its synergy as a Vampire, but it turns out it is a Knight too! Ifnir Deadlands and Shefet Dunes are very strong alongside Paladin of Atonement because you can inflict life loss to grow your own Paladin of Atonement. This combination creates a very large threat quite quickly.
The deck is actually playing a number of Knights from Dominaria that I believe many players thought were not quite strong enough for Standard play. Dauntless Bodyguard is a reasonable rate for a one-drop, though it does die to Goblin Chainwhirler. Aryel, Knight of Windgrace is a card that is a Limited all-star, and does have some nice tribal synergy in its ability to both kill creatures and churn out Knights. The other four-mana Knight is one of the new cards that ties the deck together.
Valiant Knight provides a big incentive to play a ton of Knights in your deck, and while it may not be a two-drop lord like some of the other tribes have access to, this one is also more powerful. The four toughness means you are a decent attacker and dodge most of the red spot removal, while the double strike activation provides a way to close out games pretty easily.
The other big play is Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants. The new Ajani goes really well in decks that are getting creatures onto the board early, and this deck has a lot of two-drops to go alongside her. This Knights deck has many similarities to a deck like Zombies as it aims to snowball its threats, so that even your small creatures must be answered by the opponent. The four copies of Remorseful Cleric in the sideboard give you a great card against God-Pharaoh's Gift decks, which are otherwise tough to beat.
The more traditional route to go with White-Black is to not go quite as all-in on the Knight theme. If we look at the list the Brew Crew played in the Standard Super League Championship this week, we see that there are other possible ways to incorporate Core Set 2019 cards under the umbrella of White-Black Knights:
This is more of a White-Black Midrange deck with the Knight package including History of Benalia, but also has other creature types in the mix. Kitesail Freebooter provides an angle of hand disruption in game one, and then Resplendent Angel is simply a high enough quality creature to play without a ton of synergy alongside it. The threat of getting to six mana and being able to churn our Angels by activating its own ability is what makes it so strong.
The Angels provide life gain later in the game, which certainly can swing games against the aggro decks from Zombies to Mono-Red. Lyra Dawnbringer is one of those cards that has proven itself to be one of the most swingy threats in the format, so you end up sacrificing the Knights theme in order to have sheer power. Interestingly Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants is here as a four-of which does seem like a lot – right now it is one of those cards we know is at least good, but is it great? Time will tell here, I like it in the list but would be hesitant to have the full playset.
Transitioning from Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants, lets instead talk about another signature card that can transform into a planeswalker. I am of course referring to Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. We knew this would be good in Grixis decks, but now the question becomes what the best Grixis deck actually is. You can go out of your way to play a red mana base in order to have Goblin Chainwhirlers, or go straight Grixis, which makes black cards like Vraska's Contempt easier to cast.
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is a card we see a ton of in black-based midrange decks because of its ability to be a source of card advantage, and you don't need a bunch of other energy generators to go along with it. This sort of deck used to play Harnessed Lightning as another energy generator and removal spell, but it makes sense to not have it because the other removal options in black are less conditional. The four copies of Nicol Bolas, the Ravager provides another tough to deal with threat.
Usually Bolas gets hit by removal, but even if that's the case the fact that the opponent has to discard a card to it means you are still getting a two-for-one if it gets hit by an opposing Vraska's Contempt. Then there are those times when it doesn't get removed from play, and if it does transform things become silly. This deck has an impressive lategame with the combination of Champion of Wits, Torrential Gearhulk, The Scarab God, and Liliana, Death's Majesty. There are plenty of similarities to Blue-Black Midrange.
In fact, this really is Blue-Black Midrange splashing for Bolas. There is only one red card here, which goes to show just how powerful Bolas actually is, as it is good enough to make your mana base worse to splash it. Blue-Black Midrange is a proven deck in the format, and it will be very interesting to see how that deck evolves. It is possible that Bolas is so good that there will be very few straight Blue-Black decks in the format, as there is such a high incentive to be Grixis instead now.
The other strategy that may be shifting because of the new set is God-Pharaoh's Gift. Gift decks can actually go in a number of different directions, as we have seen white-blue versions have the most success, but there are also other possible color pairs. With the addition of Stitcher's Supplier, there is now a very real incentive to play Blue-Black Gift – it's another creature that gets cards into your graveyard much like Minister of Inquiries, except that you will get the cards in the graveyard regardless of whether or not Stitcher's Supplier gets hit by a Fatal Push.
This arguably makes Stitcher's Supplier a better version of Minister of Inquires for Gift decks, though of course Blue-Black versions will simply play both.
By not playing white there are naturally not any Refurbishes, and this deck relies on Gate to the Afterlife instead. Unlike the White-Blue Gift deck, this version is almost all creatures so you will never be lacking good cards to bring back with the God-Pharaoh's Gift. Sticher's Supplier is perfect here as you really need that additional creature mill option, as getting six creatures into the graveyard isn't always easy. The deck gets to play a lot of the best creatures in the format, and Opts not to play Angel of Invention because the deck can't actually cast it.
By playing all creatures you can naturally cast, the deck is very capable of just being Blue-Black Good Stuff if you are unable to draw a Gate to the Afterlife. This deck is going to be pretty well set up against control, as by not being all-in on Refurbish the control decks are forced to attempt to answer all the creatures the deck churns out. After sideboard you naturally are going to be sideboarding out creatures based on matchups, as versus control you can upgrade with Glint-Sleeve Siphoners and Duress.
By having hand disruption like Duress and Kitesail Freebooter against control, it allows you to create a good opening to get Gate to the Afterlife onto the battlefield. Against other Blue-Black decks you can actually just run out Gate to the Afterlife as early as turn three, and opponents won't be able to remove it from play. If you are up against a red deck, the safest move is generally waiting until turn five if it is possible do so in order to play around Abrade, as you can play and activate Gate to the Afterlife in the same turn. This deck puts enough pressure on the opponent that cards like Negate and Duress aren't that good against you, as there are actually very few noncreature spells in the deck.
Walking Ballista you generally only see in God-Pharaoh's Gift decks that play Gate to the Afterlife. Part of the reason it is so good here is the ability to play it for zero. There will be spots where on turn five the plan is to play and activate Gate to the Afterlife immediately. Walking Ballista helps facilitate this as you can cast the Gate to the Afterlife and by playing Walking Ballista for zero you can also discard a creature from your hand. The ability to loot with Gate to the Afterlife is part of why getting six creatures in the graveyard is manageable.
If you are playing against a Blue-Black deck nowadays don't just assume it is Blue-Black Midrange. You might see creatures like Kitesail Freebooter, Champion of Wits and Ravenous Chupacabra, but actually be up against this Gift deck. Be aware of the opponent's ability to play a Gate to the Afterlife and activate it, but a lot of the time there is no way to stop it from happening. The Scarab God is also a nice backup plan for this deck, as there are tons of good targets to be able to bring back with it.
Thanks for reading,