Core Set 2019 contains a bunch of cards with tribal applications, so today I want to explore the new cards and the tribal decks they enable. The set makes possible decks built around the classic tribes Goblins, Elves and Zombies, which had some tools before but not enough to make an entire tribal deck, and even revitalizes one of Standard's forgotten tribes, Cats.
When looking over the Core Set 2019 spoiler I couldn't help but notice a few promising Cats, which brings Cat tribal back into the picture. Cat tribal came into existence in Standard with Amonkhet, with the payoffs of Regal Caracal and Pride Sovereign, and it was briefly barely competitive, but soon fell by the wayside as the metagame became more defined. An influx of new cards is exactly what the deck needs if it hopes to become competitive again, and the new additions might be just what the deck needs.
Leonin Warleader is reminiscent of Hero of Bladehold in that it creates two attacking tokens when it attacks, and will likely be a staple effect like Hero was. The tokens it creates are on the theme of the deck, which can pump them with Regal Caral or Metallic Mimic and use them to grow Pride Sovereign or fire off as massive Appeal // Authority, which is better than ever in the deck now because it can be used to push Leonin Warleader over blockers. The tokens having lifelink also helps support a lifelink theme, which the deck may want to fully embrace so it can take advantage of two of the other new Cats it receives in Ajani's Pridemate – which is a real payoff for lifegain – as well as Leonin Vanguard, which gives the deck the aggressive one-drop that it sorely needed and plays well Ajani's Pridemate by potentially triggering it on turn three. Regal Caracal and especially Sacred Cat give the deck plenty of reliable ways to gain life, so I see it as a legitimate path for the deck, especially because lifelink is so strong in this metagame against red decks.
Here's what I'm thinking:
One new card that isn't actually a Cat but is on flavor theme is Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants, a Cat planeswalker with abilities that mesh very well in a deck with plenty of small creatures to pump or to return from the graveyard. It's not great at protecting itself so I am not sure it's going to cut it against red decks, but it seems great against control decks that can't pressure it, so I've put it in the sideboard.
To be realistic, the Cat deck is going to have a tough time against Goblin Chainwhirler, but that doesn't mean the deck is unplayable or can't beat the red deck. Last weekend at Grand Prix Pittsburgh I sat next to a White-Green Tokens deck that looked like it could never beat Goblin Chainwhirler, and I chuckled at his bravery. I was surprised when I saw him deep into day two playing against my friend, who was in contention for Top 8. That deck had Benalish Marshal to fight back against Goblin Chainwhirler, and maybe that card is an option for the Cats deck, Here's what a Goblin Chainwhirler-proofed decklist might look like.
The Cat theme has a more minor role in this version along with the lifelink plan, so it's less synergistic and explosive but the more balanced gameplan should be more consistent and resilient. It also seems like a nice home for Resplendent Angel, one of the very best cards in the set. It's a strong white card that can win the game on its own and has some mild synergy in the deck because its lifelink ability can trigger Ajani's Pridemate or its passive ability can be triggered by the other lifelink creatures in the deck.
Core Set 2019 includes a bunch of support for Goblin tribal, adding new tools to use with Goblins in Dominaria that teased their return as a tribe. There are a variety of new Goblins of interest, and they come together to form the base of a convincing looking Goblin deck.
Goblin Instigator isn't exciting, but it gives the deck a very solid two-drop and fills in this role-player spot that the deck has always relied on historically in Standard, whether it be Dragon Fodder or Mogg War Marshal. It works great with Skirk Prospector as a sort of mana acceleration for the next turn, even potentially leading to a turn three Siege-Gang Commander. The tokens are also great to be sacrificed to Siege-Gang Commander, or to the most intriguing new card for the tribe, Dark-Dweller Oracle. Turning creatures into card advantage is a very strong ability and a real payoff for the token-rich Goblin deck. It's a simple and brutally efficient card, one that has the drawback of not allowing one to store up cards, but the fact that any card can be played, including lands, and it cost just one mana to use, means it will be very effective. It all comes with a nice 2/2 body, and makes it look like an all-star here and a card that I could see making its way into Modern and Legacy Goblin decks.
Goblin Trashmaster gives the Goblin deck a lord, for which is has relied on Goblin King in the past and will be a nice addition to the Standard version. Goblin Trashmaster is a bit more expensive than Goblin King, but it comes with more power and toughness to match so it's a bit more formidable and resilient on its own and should work well enough in Standard. Its secondary ability of being able to destroy artifacts isn't of high value, although it's interesting as a sideboard option, especially in eternal formats with Goblin Matron to search for it, but it does have use in Standard, as it is great for killing Heart of Kiran and Torrential Gearhulk.
Volley Veteran is Gempalm Incinerator's effect on a body, and because that card has always been a staple of the deck wherever and whenever it is legal, I see Volley Veteran being good enough for Standard. The deck will have enough Goblins to enable its ability, which is a source of card advantage and tempo, and in this deck will be much like a Ravenous Chupacabra with twice the power. It will help the deck deal with all sorts of problems, primarily blockers, and is a great threat too.
There's also the option of Gobin Motivator, which is a decent effect and gives the deck another one-drop, but I don't value the effect that highly when the deck already has Goblin Warchief and doesn't really have any single creatures it wants to give haste like Goblin Piledriver, plus I don't want to be weaker to Goblin Chainwhirler so it's an easy pass.
Elvish Clancaller is the cheapest Elf lord ever, and it comes with the added bonus of being a mana sink and engine with the potential to take over a game. Along with Thorn Lieutenant, another great early play that gets better late in the game, the deck now has enough strong cards that it's worth seriously exploring. It stands out among tribes because of Llanowar Elves, which is superior to any one-drops other tribes have access to. The new cards have an aggressive slant, so they join Steel Leaf Champion in giving this deck direction as a tribal-powered beatdown deck.
Narnam Renegade gives the deck another one-drop, an aggressive card that also helps the deck play defense. Metallic Mimic helps push the aggressive strategy and its counters have some added synergy with Rishkar, Peema Renegade, which helps the deck generate the mana needed to get the most out of its new mana sinks. Marywn, the Nurturer is another great source of mana and eventually becomes quite a threat, so I think it's worth trying here.
Another new Elf is Elvish Rejuvenator. It's a variant of Wood Elves that only looks at the top five so has a small chance of missing, but has the upside of being able to hit any land including duals and value lands like Hashep Oasis. It's a nice piece of card advantage in a deck without Elvish Visionary and the effect is great in such a mana-hungry deck, though admittedly it might just be too slow and weak.
The tribe has also received a gift in Reclamation Sage, surely a staple in the sideboard, but a card that I think could be worth some spots in the main deck because so many decks have good targets.
Core Set 2019 brings a significant amount of support to Zombies, which became a serious Standard tribe with Amonkhet and for a while was a top-tier deck before eventually declining and then being completely gutted by the last rotation. Death Baron is the highlight, giving the deck a powerful lord and another payoff for going tribal. Maybe the most critical card is Diregraf Ghoul, which gives it a one-drop that has been critical to the deck historically and makes playing Zombie tribal realistic.
The most exciting new card for the deck is definitely Graveyard Marshal, which in addition to having a nice 3/2 body for two mana has the excellent ability of turning any creature in its graveyard into a 2/2 token for three mana. Scrapheap Scrounger has proven just how valuable this sort of effect is, and Graveyard Marshal essentially gives the ability to every creature in the graveyard. It's a fantastic role-player here and helps fill in the ranks of the tribal deck with a very solid creature that's good enough to play in a non-tribal deck.
The most interesting Zombie in the set might be Stitcher's Supplier, which mills three cards and threatens to mill three more when it dies. It's useful for fueling Graveyard Marshal and digging for Dread Wanderer or even Scrapheap Scrounger, but it's not exactly a strong card on its own. It reminds me of Minister of Inquiries, which is a great roleplayer in graveyard decks like God-Pharaoh's Gift. In fact, it, along with Liliana, Untouched by Death as another Zombie card and graveyard enabler, makes me curious about just that – a Zombie God-Pharaoh's Gift deck – taking a page out of the Gate to the Afterlife-driven Mono-Red Goblin version.
A more traditional version would look something like this.
Zombies can also dip into white for cards like Wayward Servant, which seems strong in a Mono-Red meta, and even Binding Mummy.
Core Set 2019 also has me curious about some more obscure tribes, like Artificers, which gets some strong cards in Gearsmith Prodigy, Skilled Animator and Sai, Master Thopterist, which combine well with the tribes only real but deceptively strong payoff, Inventor's Goggles. I'm not sure yet where to go from there, but it could be the real deal, and could be a great home for the new Tezzeret, Artifice Master. There's also so many good Humans in the set that I wonder if that tribe could work in Standard.
What tribal cards in Core Set 2019 are you excited to play with?