Core Set 2019 cards are being revealed at a rapid pace, and the set is now nearly entirely spoiled. Dominaria is a tough act to follow, but I'm continually impressed by the quality of the new cards. Like Dominaria, Core Set 2019 is packed full of Magic flavor, especially in the form of callbacks that bear resemblance to cards of the past, and in some outright reprints of iconic cards. It's exciting to have these cards back in Standard, and it's going to be fun seeing how the new cards perform. I see these reprints and callbacks as being some of the most impressive cards on the M19 roster, so today I want to share my thoughts on the cards and how I see them fitting into the Standard metagame.
My favorite card of the set so far is Exclusion Mage, which is a functional reprint of Man-o'-War. It's the first reprint of this kind of the card ever, and I think it's a pretty big deal. Reflector Mage was good enough to get banned in Standard, and while Exclusion Mage lacks the unfair aspect of locking out the bounced card from being cast, it's still a great tempo play. The card is more than playable, and its less restrictive one-color mana cost will open it up to more decks.
In terms of what's currently in Standard, Exclusion Mage has a direct comparison in Ravenous Chupacabra. When that card was spoiled it was talked about as a huge deal for Standard, by some to the point of ridicule as an oppressive mistake that would keep fair creatures out of Standard. So far history shows that it has been playable, an efficient and effective card, but not overpowered. If Ravenous Chupacabra is oppressive to creatures, then I'd argue that Exclusion Mage is moreso, because it has the same creature removing effect except at one mana less, which makes it all the more powerful as a tempo play. It comes with the tradeoff of not actually destroying the creature, which is significant, but the improved mana efficiency does increase its impact, especially in a deck that can make up for it by using Exclusion Mage to protect Planeswalkers or to clear the way for aggression that ends the game before the opponent can even use all of their cards.
Exclusion Mage seems great in U/B Midrange, which could use it alongside Ravenous Chupacabra, and has the ability to reuse the effect with The Scarab God or Liliana, Death's Majesty. Exclusion Mage also seems like a great fit into God-Pharaoh's Gift decks. The white-blue Refurbish version has been making a comeback, but I see Exclusion Mage at its best in creature-heavy Gate to the Afterlife versions, so maybe Exclusion Mage could help reinvigorate the blue-red or blue-black versions. It might be especially useful in the blue-green versions, which need the creature removal the most, and can even cast it on turn two with Llanowar Elves. I could also see Exclusion Mage bringing in a new wave of white-blue midrange decks, alongside cards like Knight of Grace, History of Benalia, Karn, Scion of Urza, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. The deck could go the route of W/B Vehicles and play Heart of Kiran, perhaps splashing for Scrapheap Scrounger to support Toolcraft Exemplar, or maybe more of a historic route with Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage and countermagic.
Exclusion Mage is a Wizard, and that makes the tribe look much more attractive, especially when combined with Naban, Dean of Iteration to double the effect. The tribe also gains Viashino Pyromancer, which is just a more efficient Ghitu Journeymage, and another card that goes well with Naban, Dean of Iteration.
Reclamation Sage is one of the high-profile reprints in Core Set 2019, a Modern staple and a card that's sure to make its way into Standard sideboards. It's a great option for any deck that wants a Naturalize effect, and its body makes it better than other options in most cases. It's effective against control decks with Search of Azcanta, and it hits Torrential Gearhulk, so it's likely to find a target against them, especially W/U Control decks with Cast Away and Seal Away. It has applications against almost every deck in the format, as it destroys Heart of Kiran along with Scrapheap Scrounger, Aethersphere Harvester, Walking Ballista, Verdurous Gearhulk, Gate to the Afterlife, God-Pharaoh's Gift, and Karn, Scion of Urza constructs. It's pure value, reusable with any sort of reanimation effect, and can be found with Adventurous Impulse, which makes it a higher-impact sideboard card.
If Goblin Chainwhirler is oppressing Standard and makes the banning of Rampaging Ferocidon laughable, then Plague Mare must be playable, a great sideboard card at the very least. There's a new cycle of color-hosing nightmare horse creatures, which have a familiar feel as callbacks to cards of the past, and they look very playable. Plague Mare can't be blocked by white creatures, which is pretty awful as far as a hoser is concerned since white decks usually aren't doing much blocking, especially against those where you'd want the -1/-1 ability, but that means it's really only being used for its Goblin Chainwhirler-esque effect, more of a callback to Plague Spitter than to any color hoser. Its 2/2 body is smaller than a 3/3 first strike, but it's still a nice rate, and its mana cost is less restrictive so it can be played by all sorts of decks, like black-green and U/B Midrange, where I could even see it earning a spot in the maindeck.
Another notable member of the Nightmare Horse cycle is Vine Mare, which can't be blocked by black creatures, which, again, makes it a lackluster color hoser, but is more impressive because of its hexproof, 5/3 body. It's reminiscent of Phantom Centaur, but it has the potential to be much more powerful, as hexproof is one of Magic's most dangerous keywords, one that makes Vine Mare prime for abuse with equipment and especially auras. Add a card like Cartouche of Knowledge or On Serra's Wings, and Vine Mare becomes very hard for some decks to beat. I think Vine Mare really shines, however, because it doesn't need any help to be a threat. It has a huge size at a reasonable cost, and finds a nice intersection that hexproof cards don't usually find, and haven't since Thrun, the Last Troll. I see Vine Mare fitting into the Steel Leaf Stompy deck, and might make its way into W/G Midrange, which would be an obvious home for the On Serra's Wings combo to fight aggressive decks like Mono-Red Aggro. It could also be played as sideboard card in different variety of green decks, and is at its best against black-based control decks that rely on spot removal like Vraska's Contempt.
Another member of the nightmare horse cycle, and the one most effective as a color hoser, at least in spirit, is Shield Mare. Familiar to anyone who has played with or against Kitchen Finks, Shield Mare gains three life when it enters the battlefield, which makes it an ideal hoser against aggressive red decks, and its 2/3 body make sit an effective blocker. It also comes with the ability of gaining three life whenever the opponent targets it, so that's more value when the opponent destroys it with burn or targets it with Earthshaker Khenra. Its tough enough as a blocker that the opponent won't always be able to just ignore it or push through it, so it's often going to eat a burn spell, meaning it gained six life and traded with a card. It's an attractive card when an aggressive red deck is at the top of the metagame, and looks to be well-worth some sideboard slots in decks that need help against red decks.
Lightning Mare isn't really a direct callback to anything that I can think of, but this member of the nightmare horse cycle feels familiar enough, and stands out for its efficiency and its potential power. It's not really a hoser in any form, since being uncounterable is cool but not worthy of getting sideboarded in against blue decks that will just kill it with Fatal Push or Seal Away. What does make Lightning Mare interesting is its stats: two mana for a three-power creature with a Firebreathing ability. The ability is deceptively powerful, and allows Lightning Mare to convert mana intro extra damage, letting it to trade up with larger creatures. Lightning Mare looks to have the makings of a Standard-playable card in this environment, and could easily slot into the Mono-Red deck as a new staple. It does damage comparable to Kari Zev, Skyship Raider and Scrapheap Scrounger, but can chip in extra damage throughout the game with its ability. It really excels in the late game, where it will become a huge threat as a mana sink. It's definitely held back by Goblin Chainwhirler, but it's something to keep in mind.
Core Set 2019 brings Elvish Rejuvenator, a callback to Wood Elves, a card that sees fringe Modern play and has been a Standard staple in the past. The cards aren't quite the same, because Elvish Rejuvenator looks at the top five for land and can technically miss, but it does have the upside of hitting any land, so it can be used to fix mana or to dig for utility lands, which means greater value. In many decks, the body provided by Elvish Rejuvenator will outclass whatever benefit other acceleration options might provide, whether it's chump blocking for Teferi, Hero of Dominaria in a deck like Bant Approach, being reused with Liliana, Death's Majesty in black-green, or triggering Elf tribal synergies on a card like Marywn, the Nurturer.
One of the most hyped cards in the set so far is Resplendent Angel, and I agree that the card looks fantastic. It's sort of a callback to Exalted Angel, a three-mana play that for more mana becomes a lifelinking flier, but I see it functioning more like Figure of Destiny, a reasonable threat early on that stays relevant by becoming a potent mana sink late in the game. A three-mana 3/3 flying creature with no abilities is below-par, but it's not that far off from playable—just look at Mantis Rider in Modern—so it doesn't need a ton more to be playable. The ability to pump for mana is always a valuable ability on a creature, and combined with lifelink makes Resplendent Angel a very real threat that the opponent has to respect. Its real power comes from the fact that the ability will produce an Angel Token at a very reasonable rate, the value of which will be hard for any opponent to keep up with each turn. By itself, Resplendent Angel looks like it does just enough to be playable, and would be a good fit into a white aggressive deck as an evasive creature and late-game mana sink, and could work well in midrange decks like white-black or white-green. It starts to look even better when you consider its synergy with Lyra Dawnbringer, which will pump the angel with its +1/+1 ability. As a five-power lifelink creature, it's also capable of triggering the token ability on Resplendent Angel. On the mana curve between the two creatures is Shalai, Voice of Plenty, which can protect the pieces of the synergy from removal and creates a potent package of fliers.
Crucible of Worlds is one of the huge reprints in Core Set 2019, and will get copies of the expensive Eternal staple in the hands of more players, but it's also exciting because it brings the card back to Standard. Playing lands from the graveyard is incredible value, but it really starts to become powerful when used to play utility lands that provide more value than just mana, which is where Crucible of Worlds does much of its work. Standard doesn't have Wasteland or Mishra's Factory, but it does have some useful lands that would pair well with Crucible of Worlds. One of the best cards with Crucible of Worlds is Evolving Wilds, which can dig for an extra land each turn. Another is Field of Ruin, which could be used to keep opponents off of nonbasic lands and maybe eventually run them out of basics. It really seems great with the memorial cycle, like Memorial to Genius to draw cards, Memorial to Glory as a token-generating engine, or even Memorial to War as a true Wasteland effect.
What are your favorite Core Set 2019 cards so far?