With Core Set 2019 right on our doorstep, I want to go over what I believe to be the best cards in the set for Constructed play. As a disclaimer, keep in mind this is a list created before we have seen any of these new cards in action so some guesses may be wrong, but I will do my best!
Before starting the official list, I will talk about reprints for a moment. Scapeshift is a card that actually created a whole new archetype in Modern and this is its first time ever being reprinted. The reprinting is certainly long overdue, though it doesn't really make a ton of sense for it to be specifically in Core Set 2019, as there are no Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle in Standard. My best guess is that the aim here was to have another card with high monetary value in the set that sees play in Modern.
As for Crucible of Worlds, it's a card that goes all the way back to Vintage. We typically see Crucible of Worlds at its best alongside cards like Ghost Quarter or Wasteland, so we could see it played alongside Field of Ruin as well.
Exclusion Mage is a very good rate for a bounce creature. It has been a while since we have seen a card like Man-o'-War – the closest we got is Reflector Mage, but that card actually got banned from Standard. Not only does this card have the right stats, but it also happens to be a Wizard. That makes its creatures type very relevant; imagine curving Naban, Dean of Iteration into Exclusion Mage, now that's a tempo play!
The amount of play Exclusion Mage sees will hinge on how good bounce creatures end up being in the format. This means that if big green creatures are popular this sort of creature will be better, while on the other hand lots of control decks without many creatures are not matchups where you want Exclusion Mage. Certainly, this is an upgrade to Academy Journeymage for Wizard strategies.
Recently we have seen more red cards that have the ability to disrupt the opponent's lands, while not being actual land destruction. Alpine Moon has similarities to Blood Sun, Blood Moon and Speading Seas. The mana cost here is very reasonable, though the fact it doesn't cantrip by drawing a card when it comes into play does make it card disadvantage. This is unlikely to see play in Standard, unless we see powerful nonbasic lands printed in the future that this would be effective against.
In Modern, this is an effective sideboard tool against specific nonbasic lands like Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or Tron pieces. We could see this in decks that are multicolor strategies that don't want to play Blood Moon because of how it effects your own mana base as well as the opponent's. Certainly, this doesn't compare to Blood Moon in terms of power level, but there are definitely spots where it will see play.
Remorseful Cleric has the potential to make an impact on multiple formats. It is tough to predict exactly how good graveyard interaction will be in Standard; right now there are cards like Torrential Gearhulk and The Scarab God, though God-Pharaoh's Gift is the big one Remorseful Cleric is good against. Being a two-mana, two-power flyer this is essentially a hatebear that has additional utility because of its ability to sacrifice itself. It is strong enough to become a main deck card in Standard, but that will likely depend on how good the sacrifice effect will be on average, which will depend on what the metagame looks like.
We could also see Remorseful Cleric in Modern, as it is a good silver bullet to be able to find off Chord of Calling. We know there are some very strong options in Modern when it comes to decks that abuse their graveyard. Having a single copy of Remorseful Cleric could be the difference between winning and losing a match against Dredge. Beyond that, this is also a Spirit which means it could potentially find a home in a Modern Spirits deck.
Remember when Zombies was one of the top decks in Standard? Well, now we are seeing a bunch of powerful Zombies again to go with cards like Liliana's Mastery and Lord of the Accursed. Graveyard Marshal is in fact a Zombie, though it is powerful enough to fit into just about any black deck. We have already seen Mono-Black Control decks in Standard, and this card could slot in there. This is both a strong early play and a mana sink later, exactly what you want from a two-drop. The card is very comparable to cards that we saw be very strong in Standard like Relentless Dead.
Looking at the planeswalkers in this set, many players initial reaction was being underwhelmed. I think we have gotten used to cards like Karn, Scion of Urza, or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. The planeswalkers in Core Set 2019 are not off the charts in terms of power level, but are certainly serviceable. Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants is going to be a nice curve topper in aggressive white creature decks. Both the first two abilities are going to work well in those sorts of strategies since you will generally either have multiple creatures in play to put counters onto, or an early drop will have already hit the graveyard that can be brought back.
For a four-mana planeswalker Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants does have a relatively high loyalty count. Being able to get to the emblem quickly is part of why the card is good, as it forces opponents to worry about answering your Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants before the emblem, while presumably you have plenty of pressure with creatures on board.
Here is a huge creature that could be a powerful win condition in Standard. In fact, it could see even more play once Torrential Gearhulk rotates and control decks are looking for a big flash threat. There aren't that many win conditions in control decks, and almost all of them are easy to answer. Even Gods are dealt with using cards like Vraska's Contempt of Ixalan's Binding. This, on the other hand, is almost impossible to answer outside of a sweeper.
The fact that this card can gain hexproof and can't be countered is reminiscent of cards like Sphinx of the Final Word, which also saw a decent amount of Standard play for similar reasons. Being so expensive, don't expect to see more than one or two copies of this in control decks, but it is a great way to have inevitability. When trying to battle with lots of countermagic and spot removal, control decks that are Esper colors should seriously consider the inclusion of this card.
I decided to rank these two lords together and cheat a little bit. Both cards are very similar for what they can do for their given creature types. Lords are naturally going to be at their best in decks that focus on making one creature type as powerful as possible. Both Spirits and Elves have some creatures of the same tribe in Standard, but there have yet to be any truly dedicated Elves or Spirits decks do well in the current format. That certainly could change though as two mana lords are at a premium, we have already seen Legion Lieutenant and Merfolk Mistbinder be good, so there is no reason that these two lords can't do the same if there is enough support for them.
When we start to look towards Modern, both cards should see play. Supreme Phantom fits right into Spirits decks, as a card that could work alongside Drogskol Captain to buff up its creatures. For Elvish Clancaller there are lots of strong Elves in Modern, so it will be a matter of trying to see if decks can make room for this card. The activated ability is a nice and relevant add-on, as the mana sink can be pretty important, and they chain together very well. It does mean that you want to play the full four copies though to maximize the activated ability. Elvish Archdruid is currently the lord of choice in Elves decks, but we could see Elvish Clancaller alongside it.
Here we have one of the hallmark cards of Core Set 2019. How good this card will be in Standard isn't obvious, but it is clearly very powerful. We have never seen a card quite like this. The idea of having the ability to transform into a huge planeswalker simply by paying an activated ability on your creature is a new concept. Without the ability to become to become a planeswalker this is still a relatively inexpensive flying creature, and the fact the opponent must discard a card when it enters the battlefield is far from irrelevant.
We will see more Grixis-flavored decks with Bolas, though the primary barrier it faces is being a three color card. Grixis decks aren't that popular right now in Standard, and most of them are energy-based. With that being said, this is definitely a card that could help the Grixis decks gain popularity. When you are actually able to transform into Nicol Bolas, the Arisen the game should end pretty quickly after that.
A card that I was lucky enough to preview here on TCGplayer, and I do think it is going to end up being one of the sweetest cards to come out of the set. Many of the high-power legendary creatures in this set also have high mana costs, making them more difficult to play. Sai, Master Thopterist has both a reasonable casting cost and very relevant text. If Mox Amber starts seeing more Standard play there is a good chance it is in a deck featuring Sai, Master Thopterist.
Sai, Master Thopterist does essentially need to go into an artifact deck for it to be good, but there are alreadydecks that play lots of artifacts – they just don't see a ton of play at the moment. Sai, Master Thopterist looks like it could be another piece in the Mono Blue Storm deck, or an improvise based strategy.
Another creature that has reasonable stats without its extra abilities similar to Bolas, so you know it is going to be good. The question becomes, how easy it is to gain five life in a single turn? One activation of Resplendent Angel is going to be enough to gain five life, and then net a flying Angel. Another card Resplendent Angel works nicely alongside of is Lyra Dawnbringer, as she provides a way to gain five life without needing to activate Resplendent Angel.
Expect to see Resplendent Angel see play alongside the other strong Angels already in Standard, like Shalai, Voice of Plenty and Lyra Dawnbringer. Right now, I don't think there are enough dedicated life gain cards to make a full blown life gain deck, though if you were to go in that direction Crested Sunmare could also become an option.
Thanks for reading,