Last weekend was the Core Set 2019 prerelease, and Magic Online had its own pre-release of sorts by holding sealed events as early as last Friday. A consequence of this is that the new set has been Standard-legal online ever since, there's no lag-time waiting for the official release like in paper, which will see Core Set 2019become Standard legal not until this Friday, July 13th. The new metagame has been shaping up for days now, and there is already some great information about it available, specifically the winning 5-0 league decklists, which gives us a nice initial look at what new cards are performing and how the set is impacting the metagame. There are a bunch of new cards performing, whether they have been added to a top-tier deck, revitalized an old deck, or created a whole new one.
The elephant in the room looks to be Bolas, which was clearly one of the power cards of the set and one I discussed in detail. So far it is living up to its hype. As expected, it has given new life to Grixis Energy, which was formerly in contention for the best deck in the format but completely fell from the metagame.
With Blue-Black Midrange doing so well lately, I imagine that a similar deck like Grixis Energy would also be well-positioned in the metagame.
This next deck takes that idea further by just splashing Nicol Bolas, the Ravager into what is otherwise straight Blue-Black Midrange, and depending on how good Nicol Bolas, the Ravager turns out to be, it could replace Blue-Black in the metagame.
When I discussed Bolas last week, I shared a deck I brewed that "splashed" it into Mono-Red, or rather Black-Red Midrange, in order to live the dream of playing it alongside Goblin Chainwhirler. It was a thought experiment as much as anything, one that the excellent mana fixing in the format brings into the realm of possibility, so I was thrilled to see a very similar deck put up 5-0 this week.
The idea behind this deck is that black-red is arguably the best deck in Standard, and the mana in Standard is so good that adding blue to support Bolas isn't a big stretch, and it might actually be worthwhile if it's as good as advertised.
One of the deck's key strengths is that while it's an aggressive deck at heart, it's a bonafide midrange deck with the tools to play a longer game, and Bolas really bolsters this ability. Not only is it a two-for-one because of its discard effect, but the inevitability it provides because of its ability to turn into a planeswalker means the deck will never be outgunned in the late game. Blue also provides The Scarab God, the ultimate late-game card and valuable counters in the sideboard. I already liked the idea of this deck and seeing it winning makes it seem like the real deal, so it's definitely my favorite new deck and what I'd be excited to playing if was competing in a Standard tournament this weekend.
Core Set 2019 might have created a monster in the form of Zombie tribal, which isn't exactly new so much as it is a revival of the deck that died in the last rotation.
Core Set 2019 fills in all the holes of the deck, from little things like reprinting Diregraf Ghoul to reprinting a powerful lord Death Baron, all the way up to adding an incredibly powerful new creature to the pantheon of the tribe, Graveyard Marshal. Its ability to efficiently generate Zombie Tokens is one of the best I've ever seen on a creature and would be absolutely broken if not held back by needing fuel from the graveyard, but even just a token or two can be enough to swing a game. It all comes attached to a 3/2 body for two mana, which fills a hole in the curve and makes it a great threat for the aggressive deck.
This list includes a copy of Liliana, Untouched by Death, which really needs a dedicated Zombie tribal deck to reach its full potential, and in fact playability at all. Its seems pretty strong in a Zombie deck though, with its +1 ability draining out opponent two life at a time, and because milling fills the graveyard for Graveyard Marshal and digs into Scrapheap Scrounger and Dread Wanderer, it's generating card advantage, so it's actually closer to reading "draw a card" than it initially looks, which means the ability is actually quite strong in a deck like this.
The -2 ability is close to reading "Destroy target creature" in a Zombie deck, especially early game creatures that the planeswalker can destroy when it enters play, which makes it a strong tempo card similar to Chandra, Torch of Defiance, but an even better one because it requires less loyalty and can even be used twice in a row.
When evaluating planeswalkers I tend to mostly ignore the ultimate ability, since they generally all basically read "win the game" and are more of an afterthought, which made Liliana, Untouched by Death a big surprise. Its ultimate ability is unique in that it requires only three loyalty and can be used immediately. That makes it more like a main ability of the planeswalker, and it will lead to massive card avantage gains in turns when it enables many creatures to be cast. It's powered by the +1 ability, which means the planeswalker has synergy with itself and is a sort of self-contained win conditioned if supported by Zombies, which this deck has plenty of. I imagine that a version of the deck could be built with more copies of the planeswalker and a set of Stitcher's Apprentice to fuel a more graveyard-centric gameplan.
One of the most important cards in Core Set 2019 in the long-run may end up being Stitcher's Supplier, which I had the pleasure of getting wrecked by when playing Legacy weekend. It's really good with Cabal Therapy, I can tell you that, and it's great in a deck with Gravecrawler, Bloodghast, Lingering Souls and other graveyard value like the Mardu Goblin Bombardment deck I lost to. That high power level means it must be good enough for Standard if it had a home, and Blue-Black God-Pharaoh's Gift looks to be the perfect one.
Stitcher's Supplier does the work of Minister of Inquiries but doesn't risk dying, and in fact can trade in combat or chump block to trigger its ability and make dying a benefit. Of course rather than play one over the other, the deck plays both since having eight one-drop creatures to get the action started makes Gate to the Afterlife more consistent than ever. Stitcher's Supplier also seems like a fine card to eternalize in a pinch in order to fill the graveyard with more fuel for the next God-Pharaoh's Gift trigger.
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants isn't as downright broken and easy to use as say, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but it has a lot of potential. Adding two +1/+1 counters to the battlefield every turn is quite strong, so a deck that can consistently enable this will get plenty of value from the planeswalker. A deck that aims to do that is White-Black Knights, which is now a true tribal deck with a proper lord in Valiant Knight and uses it with all of the excellent Knight cards in Dominaria.
Mono-Red Wizards has been performing very well in Standard over the past few weeks, where it's designed to win the battle against other red decks, like the slower black-red decks. It also has the tools to race control, although that matchup can be harder than it is for Red-Black because it doesn't have Scrapheap Scrounger or Duress. Core Set 2019 provides the deck with a new card that might help remedy that problem, Viashino Pyromancer.
With an enter-the-battlefield ability of dealing two damage, Viashino Pyromancer is a source of value that control decks won't be able to entirely stop with a removal spell. As a Wizard, it's on theme and helps support Wizard's Lightning.
It was easy to overlook on the spoiler, but Anticipate is subtly one of the top cards in Core Set 2019, which proved itself to be a playable staple of control decks in past Standard formats, and seems a shoo-in to see some play in the current generation of blue control decks. At the very least, Anticipate helps make Torrential Gearhulk's ability more consistent.
This Standard cardpool has cycle lands, which create a bit of tension with Anticipate as a two-mana play, especially in Esper decks with a ton of cycle lands. Anticipate is more powerful as card selection, and has little deckbuilding cost, so I expect to see it being played in small numbers in control decks of all sorts, but I'm not sure that it's a necessity.
One of my favorite cards in Core Set 2019 is Exclusion Mage, the functional reprint of Man-o'-War. The tempo of bouncing a creature and adding a creature to the battlefield is one good enough for Standard, as Reflector Mage once proved. Exclusion Mage could be at home in a variety of blue decks, but the first place it has popped up is in the sideboard of White-Blue Gift, where it presumably comes in against creature decks as way to buy time to get God-Pharaoh's Gift into play and is then a great creature to eternalize.
Core Set 2019 happens to be filled with quality white creatures, and they might just put Oketra's Monument back on the map as a competitive deck. For a brief period it was the best deck in Standard, and its new tools could potentially bring it back into the spotlight.
The key new creature is Mentor of the Meek, which is not only a great way to generate value from the many small creatures in the deck, is absurd with Oketra's Monument creating a token for each creature and in turn another card draw trigger. Adding to the card advantage is Militia Bugler, which digs for another creature to keep the value rolling. Filling in the curve is Remorseful Cleric, which is an efficient flying with some utility tacked on. Most surprising is Suncleanser, which has come a bit too late to quell the reign of the now-banned Temur Energy deck, but still has some value for hosing what energy cards are left in Standard. It's also useful for its ability to strip counters from creatures, meaning it kills Walking Ballista and shrinks explore creatures.
One standout card in the deck is Dusk // Dawn, which I saw do some disgusting work in a White-Green tokens deck at a Grand Prix a few weeks ago and looks great now. It's a sweeper for a huge swath of Standard creatures, a one-sided sweeper since this deck only plays creatures that stay under it, and it's a source of massive value from the graveyard.
What Core Set 2019 cards are you playing with?