Core Set 2020 released on Magic Online last week, so we're already getting an idea of the new set's Standard impact even before its official paper release this Friday. The message is loud and clear—Elementals are our new overlords. Elemental cards have surged to the top of both bestsellers lists and the metagame, where Omnath, Locus of the Roil and Chandra, Awakened Inferno have broken out as two of the best new cards in all of Standard. Holding the tribe together, however, is Risen Reef which is proving to be the best creature since Rogue Refiner because of the incredible value proposition it offers. Its presence as a standalone creature in even non-Elemental decks, perhaps with Leafkin Druid, is telling, and it's only going to grow more popular. That said, there's a lot more going on in the set than just the Elementals, and in fact, other tribes have also gained some new tools in Core Set 2020 and are experiencing a resurgence. Along with the appearance some other new strategies, the set is shaping up to be a great follow-up to the high-power and format warping War of the Spark.
Dinosaurs received a surprising amount of support from the new set, and it could be enough to bring the deck back into serious Standard consideration. The tribe has succeeded in the past as something of a flavor of the week, but their power is higher than ever before (literally) with Rotting Regisaur. A creature of this sheer size for such a low cost has not been seen in Magic since maybe Tarmogoyf. If unanswered it will quickly win the game singlehandedly. Its high power is also great for enabling Ghalta, Primal Hunger almost on its own, and like the legend it's even better with haste from Otepec Huntmaster or Regisaur Alpha.
This deck splashes into black for just Rotting Regisaur, but the best addition to the tribe is Marauding Raptor, which has also appeared in a more typical Red-Green version.
Marauding Raptor is the card Dinosaurs has always wanted, if not needed, and it does a whole lot toward making the deck competitive. It really does it all, from being the perfect enrage enabler for Ripjaw Raptor to being a cost reducer to help the deck explode its hand into play. Its primary role, however, is that of a large threat, essentially functioning as a two-mana 4/3. It's especially nasty with Regisar Alpha, which will trigger the +2/+0 ability twice.
Dinosaurs also gains Shifting Ceratops, which doesn't offer any synergy but is simply a strong card that's also seeing play in non-Dinosaur decks. It helps hose blue cards that have become so common in Standard, offering immunity to things like Teferi, Time Raveler and Mass Manipulation. With the potential for haste and trample, it also hits hard as a versatile threat.
New efficient and aggressive Dinosaurs have allowed the tribe to reposition itself as a sleek and aggressive deck compared to the more ramp-based style of past iterations. It's a promising development that could bring it to the top tier of the metagame during its final months in Standard.
Another Ixalan tribe to receive a final boost before it rotates from Standard this fall is Vampires. In addition to a couple of strong new members of the tribe, it was also gifted a planeswalker in Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord.
Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord is essentially useless in all but a Vampire tribal deck, but it does a lot of work there for a low cost. Permanently adding a counter to a Vampire each turn is solid value, and adding a bit of lifelink is a nice touch typical of Sorin.
Along with this steady source of value is the potential to sacrifice a creature to essentially Lightning Helix any target. This is a very powerful effect for a plus loyalty ability with the potential to be used every turn. The catch of course is the steep cost of sacrificing a creature, but a bit of fuel to sustain this will kill the opponent or their board in just a few turns.
What pushes Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord over the top is its -3 ability, which puts a Vampire from hand into play. This sort of effect allows it to immediately protect itself with a creature for blocking, so it can generate a stream of value with its +1 abilities on subsequent turns. It's framed as the ultimate ability, but it's really the planeswalker's go-to ability on its first turn. It functions as a tempo play that essentially makes the planeswalker discounted or even free to cast, and can even be used to get a mana advantage with big plays. As such the deck has a high number of hard-hitting four- and five-mana Vampires, like Champion of Dusk and Vona, Butcher of Magan.
Vampires has also gained some great new creatures, specifically the strong one-mana plays it has sorely needed to be anything more than a single-minded aggressive deck with Skymarcher Aspirant and Vicious Conquistador. Knight of the Ebon Legion is a legitimately good card even in a non-tribal vacuum, coming with two strong abilities that work together. It's the kind of card that punches above its weight by threatening to pump, and with the potential to grow over time with +1/+1 counters, it will often force a removal spell or trade up the curve with a bigger creature.
Vampire of the Dire Moon is a versatile and functional role-player for the deck. With deathtouch it's another creature that can trade up, and with lifelink it's a strong target for gaining +1/+1 counters from Sorin.
Vampires has struggled to be a permanent fixture of competitive Standard, but the deck has had its moments. The addition of a great new planeswalker is exactly the kind of thing that it needs to reach the next level, and the addition of a great threat in Knight of the Ebon Legion is another step in the right direction. The deck might finally be in a position to put up some real results.
For a brief period Angels was a legitimate Standard tribe—albeit one very loosely held together by Lyra Dawnbringer, and really more of a good-stuff midrange deck that happened to use a lot of Angels. M20 has provided a legitimate Angel payoff with Bishop of Wings.
Four life for every Angel that comes into play is a huge amount of life gain, and combined with Bishop of Wings's own four toughness makes it a pretty big obstacle for aggressive decks to Overcome. The Bishop's secondary ability that produces a token every time an Angel dies is particularly useful because all of the angels have big targets on their heads. It also means that the opponent will be incentivized to destroy Bishop of Wings itself, but that just helps soak up removal for Angels down the road. It's a huge upgrade for the tribe, and a great replacement for Tocatli Honor Guard, which is no longer really worthy of maindeck consideration.
Feather, the Redeemed is a new addition to the tribe since the last time we saw it, and on rate it's like another Resplendent Angel, but threatening its own kind of card advantage. To take advantage of its ability the deck includes a set of Reckless Rage, which works well combined with the deck's high-toughness angels. Another interesting inclusion is Tomik, Distinguished Advokist, which doesn't offer a very useful ability in Standard but as a two-mana 2/3 flier functions like a small angel.
Angels had a period success at the very beginning of this Guilds of Ravnica season as a metagame play when Black-Green was the most popular deck. The question now is if the deck can survive in a much more diverse and dynamic metagame on the back of its own card quality. Bishop of Wings certainly helps, providing a whole lot of value at a bargain rate.
It's not exactly a Spirit lord, but Empyrean Eagle does a great impersonation of one for the tribe of primarily flying creatures. It's not far off from Drogskol Captain, which was a strong Standard card during its time and still sees Modern play. Empyrean Eagle is simply a good card, and by joining Favorable Winds gives the "flying matters" strategy the critical mass of payoffs it needs to be competitive.
To make the most of Supreme Phantom the deck focuses entirely on Spirits, and luckily it has gained some great new ones. Anthem effects are great with tokens, so Hanged Executioner is a real gift to the tribe. Initially it's like casting the front half of Lingering Souls, but instead of graveyard value it has the utility of functioning as creature removal.
Spectral Sailor gives the tribe a good one-mana play to build upon with anthems, but it's also a strong mana sink for the late game. As a nice bonus, Winged Words gives the deck an efficient card drawing spell, comparable to Standard staple Chart a Course.
With twelve powerful anthem effects and the support of some of Standard's most efficient spells in Spell Pierce and Unsummon, Spirits could finally have its time to shine in Standard like it has in Modern.
The flash mechanic was first named in Time Spiral, and by the end of its Block Constructed format the best deck was arguably Blue-Green Flash, which used many cards with the new keyword. A highlight was Mystic Snake, which was Timeshifted as a reprint but with the new flash ability. Now Frilled Mystic has brought Mystic Snake back to Standard, and along with new cards and some existing tools has revived the strategy.
M20 has provided Nightpack Ambusher, a flash threat that plays perfectly in the strategy. The deck can play entirely on the opponent's turn, so it can consistently generate a token each turn Nightpack Ambusher remains in play. With flash allowing it to be played safely at the end of the opponent's turn, Nightpack Ambusher can then be protected with countermagic. It will lead to some powerful play patterns that opponents will often be unable to recover from, and it's the strongest incentive to pursue this sort of strategy.
Another payoff is Brineborn Cutthroat, which is disguised as a Merfolk but is the perfect card for a flash deck. Not only does it have flash itself, but growing for each spell played on the opponent's turn means it can grow very quickly. Brineborn Cutthroat's ability to go on the offensive and pressure the opponent early in the game is valuable, and a turn-two Cutthroat followed by countermagic is a recipe for success.
Spectral Sailor is another nice flash addition, and its ability to draw cards is especially strong in a deck built around four-mana flash plays, giving the deck a proactive way to punish opponents who refuse to play spells into open mana.
Merfolk Trickster adds additional support as a proven flash card, as does a suite of blue disruption including Unsummon and a healthy dose of 10 counterspells to join Frilled Mystic.
What rounds out this deck is Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer. As the deck's sole sorcery-speed card it's not immediately clear why it's in the deck, but it does function well in theory. Played on turn three it can contain an early threat that might have slipped by countermagic, and then threaten to generate a large flying token for a low rate. Protected by countermagic, it's the kind of card that can take over the game, and it helps give the deck a more proactive path to victory.
The flash mechanic has clearly received some strong payoffs from the new set, and combining them with the best flash cards already in the format has created a pretty convincing deck, or at least a very fun-looking one.
Core Set 2020 isn't lacking for good cards, that much is certain, so it looks like these last few months of Standard will be quite interesting. When Ixalan block does rotate, things will open up considerably and leave more room for Core Set 2020 cards to excel—plus, the fall set will add new cards that could work with them, so it's only a matter of time before more of these cards break out.