The return of the Core Set has proven to be a bit more tribal-centric than I anticipated (I also did not anticipate an Anticipate reprint). Therefore, as an aggro aficionado, I decided the first order of business in evaluating M19 is to examine the tribal possibilities. So far three tribes stand out as the most promising, namely: Cats, Goblins and Knights. These are by no means the only possibilities, as there is also support for Dragons, Artificers / Thopters, Angels, Zombies, Elves, Dinosaurs, and to a lesser extent Spirits. Nevertheless, these three are the ones I am most excited to explore first and which I will examine today.
Cats seem like the puuuuurfect place to begin.
A while ago I wrote about (and recorded videos with) a tribal Cats deck for Standard (here), and it was semi-competitive. I felt like the powerful things the deck was capable of allowed it to go toe-to-toe with the stronger strategies in the format but that it had some big holes that forced it to play some sub-par cards. Drawing these weaker cards in the deck caused it to get outclassed too often. There was even a time when I said to myself, "If only Ajani's Pridemate were legal in Standard..." Well, it looks like I finally got my wish!
Ajani's Pridemate does a couple of really cool things for the deck. Most importantly it gives the deck another solid two-drop, which allows us to cut Metallic Mimic from the deck entirely. The other really cool thing it does is synergize with all the lifelink creatures in the deck, most notably every other creature whenever we have a Regal Caracal on the battlefield. But even when we don't, Sacred Cat naturally has lifelink, as do the tokens generated by Regal Caracal or by Pride Sovereign, and Aethersphere Harvester also has lifelink. These synergies make Ajani's Pridemate a threat the opponent will likely have to deal with quickly, and then later in the game we can get it back with Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants just in time for Regal Caracal to come down and give everyone lifelink. Each creature gaining life will individually trigger Ajani's Pridemate (I think?). So once the Cat lord comes down, the Pridemate is bound to get out of control big.
I'm particularly excited about this deck in general because of the way the metagame currently looks. Granted, there is no telling what the metagame will look like once the set becomes legal in Standard, but as long as red decks and control decks are the decks to beat, tribal cats has a few cards that are naturally very good against those strategies that it can afford to play main deck.
Against red decks, it has Regal Caracal to produce tokens to gum up the ground and it also gives all your creatures lifelink, which makes it really hard for the red deck to get us into burn range or to race us if we manage to keep a creature or two on the battlefield. We also get to play Prowling Serpopard in the main deck, a card I had in the sideboard of my non-tribal green/white deck that I went 7-3 with at the last Pro Tour. The Cat Snake is excellent against all the control decks because it is a sizeable body that cannot be countered and it also makes all our other creatures uncounterable, so curving this into Pride Sovereign is going to make life very difficult for the opponent.
Another tribal deck that hitherto hasn't quite come together that now has enough pieces is Goblins.
Goblin Trashmaster really incentivizes us to play as many Goblins as possible, and it is naturally a great complement to Siege-Gang Commander. Between Skirk Prospector and Wily Goblin, it's not difficult to cast this on the third turn of the game if needed, but unless you are up against the threat of an opposing Goblin Chainwhirler, you likely won't need to do this and would rather wait a turn and accelerate into Siege-Gang Commander first and follow it up with this card. The Trashmaster is a reasonably-bodied lord, so it fits well enough into the main deck, but where it really shines is against artifact strategies such as those with Heart of Kiran, Aethersphere Harvester and even Karn, Scion of Urza. It also gives us natural resistance to Gearhulks and to any deck that might show up based around The Antiquities War. It also makes us pretty resistant to Walking Ballista since it pumps our team (and thus requires twice the work from ballista to shoot down any creature). Also, since we can sacrifice any creature to kill the Ballista and thereby force the action whenever is most convenient for us (which will often be during our main phase when we have all our mana untapped), we can sacrifice the Goblin to Skirk Prospector or Siege-Gang Commander and get extra value out of the exchange.
Dark-Dweller Oracle is another card that fits nicely into a themed deck. It's no Goblin Dark-Dwellers, but it doesn't need to be. It's a two-drop that doesn't die to Goblin Chainwhirler and that provides some strong value later in the game, allowing us to dig into burn spells or our more powerful spells when needed. It's also a great way to gain value in response to a removal spell and thereby forces the opponent to play their spells at inopportune times to keep us from potentially gaining extra value out of the Dark-Dwellers. I think it is deceptively one of the more powerful cards in the set.
We also get another really cool card for the sideboard in Banefire. Goblins will almost always be the aggressor in each matchup, especially so against the control decks. The goal is to get as much early damage in as possible to put them on the back foot. This often means over-extending a bit into Settle the Wreckage because we can't afford to play coy and end up losing to Fumigate. Also since we have token generators in the form of Siege-Gang Commander and Wily Goblin, we can end up being up a considerable amount of mana if we get our wreckage settled. That's where Banefire really shines since it is a mana sink for all that extra mana and it cannot be countered, making it the perfect finisher after we dealt all our early damage with creatures.
Another tribal archetype I'm pretty excited about is Tribal Knights. I wrote about an Esper version of it just last week (here), and due to a few cards in M19, I'm not sure you even need the blue anymore.
The biggest new addition is Valiant Knight. This is an excellent follow-up to Knight of Grace / Knight of Malice into History of Benalia / Benalish Marshal. We now have lots of ways to pump up our knights, none of which leave us vulnerable to Goblin Chainwhirler or even down a card. They all come with a body (or bodies in the cast of History of Benalia) attached to them. This also means that a card like Liliana, Death's Majesty becomes really good since we can reliably use her reanimation ability to get back a way to pump our team, or at minimum get back a 3/2 first striker.
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants is another big addition to this deck. If our second-turn Knight survives, then Ajani snowballs the pressure by adding +1/+1 counters to it and whatever our follow-up play was. If instead our Knight did not live, then Ajani can bring it back to the battlefield and start pumping it and whatever other creature we play on ensuring turns. The other really neat thing about Ajani is its synergy with Liliana. Liliana mills cards into our graveyard, which Ajani can then bring back. Or Ajani can pump the Zombie Tokens or whatever Liliana got back from the graveyard. So in the spirit of Haakon, Stromgald Scourge, we are able to pretty effectively Reanimate all our Knights from our graveyard.
Given the printing of Ajani and Valiant Knight, Liliana becomes a better fit for this deck than The Scarab God, so that's why I decided to cut blue altogether. Another interesting interaction we have for the midrange and control matchups is boarding in Lena, Selfless Champion and then using Liliana to Reanimate her. It basically creates a loop where our creatures can never be wrathed away and instead they threaten to multiply. Lena is also a very proactive answer to the wrath effect, unlike most answers such as Heroic Intervention or Negate. In other words, you can just cast it for good value whether they have the wrath effect in hand or not.
These are by no means an exhaustive list of tribal possibilities in M19 Standard.
For instance, you could play Dragons with Spit Flame, Sarkhan, Fireblood, Glorybringer, Verix Bladewing, Lathliss, Dragon Queen, and maybe even Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. Or you could play Artificers / Thopters with Sai, Master Thopterist, Skilled Animator, Maverick Thopterist, and Artificer's Goggles. Or you could play Angels with Resplendent Angel, Shalai, Voice of Plenty, Lyra Dawnbringer, and Angel of Sanctions. Or you could play Zombies with Death Baron, Diregraf Ghoul, and Liliana, Untouched by Death. Or you could play Elves with Elvish Clancaller, Llanowar Elves, and Reclamation Sage. Dinosaurs even got a few upgrades.
Several of these tribal cards have the potential to slot into Modern too, as well as Militia Bugler in Modern Humans and Supreme Phantom in Modern Spirits, whether we're talking Esper Token spirits with Lingering Souls and Spectral Procession or Bant Spirits with Noble Hierarch. Either way it works really well with Drogskol Captain and it gets Spell Queller out of Lightning Bolt range by itself. Then again, I don't have the experience with Modern Spirits to know for sure. You'd have to ask Caleb Durward about it on Twitter for a second opinion about Supreme Phantom's viability in Modern Spirits.