I wasn’t planning on diving too deep into Core Set 2020 Limited before I was invited to participate in the Twitch Rivals event, teaming up with Marcio Carvahlo, quite possibly the best Limited player in the world. Marcio and I have a brief history of battling it out for the #1 Mythic Limited spot, so it’s great to get the offer from a fellow Limited master. I’ve finished as the #1 Mythic Limited player two seasons in a row, and I’d like to keep that title as long as I can. So I spent a few days focusing explicitly on Draft, both on MTG Arena and Magic Online.
I must say, this is likely my favorite Core Set format ever. I think there’s enough interesting things going on with synergies and archetypes that make the format much denser than a typical Core Set.
Let me start by listing the colors, and the top five commons and uncommon in each color, based on my experience. This is a good baseline of a pick order, which is ever so slightly adjusted based on how you may need to value these cards when drafting with bots as opposed to how good I think each card is individually.
Core Set 2020 MTG Arena Draft Guide
Top 5 Commons:
Best Uncommon: Master Splicer
This is my current order, but after Pacifism the quality is pretty flat. I like to make sure I have fliers and I believe Griffin Protector is the best of the common fliers, as Dawning Angel gets taken out by Shock, Disfigure, and even Vial of Dragonfire.
I sometimes taken Moorland Inquisitor over Raise the Alarm, depending on if I’m trying to do Inspired Charge things (R/W, G/W and U/W mostly). I’ve noticed the bots let you get Moorland Inquisitor incredibly late, so I’d rather take Raise early.
Top 5 Commons:
3) Frost Lynx
4) Winged Words
Best Uncommon: Spectral Sailor
It feels a little weird leaving Sleep Paralysis off the list as it’s right there with Unsummon and Winged Words, but I just don’t like expensive sorcery-speed removal in this format, especially with cards like Bone Splinters and Gods Willing going crazy late with the MTG Arena bots.
I had a difficult time determining the best blue uncommon. The list I narrowed it down to was Spectral Sailor, Captivating Gyre, and Scholar of the Ages. Scholar is a seven-mana spell that wants to be in a spell-heavy deck, so archetypes like U/W Fliers, and U/G creatures don’t utilize it well. Captivating Gyre has been simply incredible for me so I could totally see sliding that up to number one, but Spectral Sailor has just been great in every deck I play it in, control or aggro alike. It’s a great way to sink mana in a format that sometimes stalls out. The fact it has flash is huge, because it allows you to untap before sorcery-speed removal can deal with it.
The biggest thing about blue I’ve noticed is that the bots are reluctant to take cards like Faerie Miscreant and Renowned Weaponsmith. I like to speculate early on Miscreants because I’ve found it easy to get around four of them when they’re opened, as they wheel pretty reliably. Renowned Weaponsmith is a legit with both cards it fetches at common. Heart-Piercer Bow has a ton of utility. There’s a decent amount of one-toughness creatures in the format, but also you can use the 1 point to push creatures through in combat, or team up with a Fathom-Fleet Cutthroat or Ogre Siegebreaker, a combination I’ve put together quite a few times. One of the most notable things about the Bow is that it does the targeting, so it kills off all of the uncommon protection creatures. I definitely like to have at least one copy in all my sideboards and the Arena bots let me get them with only a few cards left in the pack.
Honorable Mention: Sanitarium Skeleton
Best Uncommon: Disfigure
First let me talk about Sanitarium Skeleton. The bots let you wheel Bone Splinters fairly reliably, but I have a tough time getting the Skeleton. This means I need to move the Skeleton up in my pick order, because there’s some value in getting a Skeleton or two to go with Splinters. You also have Gorging Vultures to mill them for value.
Soul Salvage is one of the big reasons I have the Vulture so high. Blood Burglar is a solid two-drop and I’m almost always happy to play them, but much like Moorland Inquisition the bots let you get them late pretty reliably.
I haven’t yet tried to slam a bunch of Undead Servants because they always feel so mopey to me, but I’ve certainly lost to people playing three or four of them while my green and red decks get stopped on the ground. I wouldn’t recommend it, because loading your deck up with four-drops is more of an issue than with one-drop fliers like Miscreant. The plan is effective when the battle is on the ground, but much less effective if you’re getting beat up by cheap fliers.
Having Disfigure as the best uncommon is pretty sad to me, but its competition was Bloodthirst Aerialist and Gravedigger. Aerialist is great when you can constantly gain some life, but it’s not reliable enough in all archetypes to take it over the incredibly cheap and versatile Disfigure. In reality, Murder is the best non-rare black card anyways.
Honorable Mention: Goblin Smuggler
Best Uncommon: Chandra, Novice Pyromancer
I like Goblin Smuggler a bit better than Reduce to Ashes, but the bots are just giving them away so I prioritize my first piece of removal over them and then scale back. I basically never want more than 2 copies of Reduce to Ashes and one is my preferred number. Chandra’s Embercat and Lavakin Brawler are potentially swapped on power level, but I find it easy to pick up Brawlers from the bots and Embercats not so much.
Red has some solid uncommons, but it also has the best uncommon in Chandra, Novice Pyromancer. Chandra has been nothing short of incredible for me. I saw a discussion on Chandra against Murder pick one/pack one, and I’m firmly in the Chandra camp. Another very notable red uncommon I’ll touch on briefly is Scampering Scorcher. I take it highly of course, but the bots don’t. I get this card as late as pick 8 and I’ve gotten it fourth or fifth pack one, so I know the bots don’t have it quite at the level I think it is. Between buffing Lavakin Brawler, comboing with Risen Reef, and getting buffed by Chandra, Novice Pyromancer the card is just always great so there’s a lot of value in picking up Scorchers late, which steers me to biasing myself a bit towards red early when all else is equal.
1) Rabid Bite
Green is pretty flat in power level. Rabid Bite is important and less replaceable than the rest. Silverback Shaman is an excellent five-drop, but it is a five-drop so it’s easier to replace than something like Leafkin Druid, which blocks reasonably well early, has Elemental synergies, and pushes out the four and five-drops that green has like Silverback Shaman. Green has a lot of trample, so it’s easy to race and not just get chump-blocked out of a race.
Tracker certainly doesn’t slide into every green deck, but is very good in the good green decks since the good green decks have very powerful creatures at rare it’s looking for, and it also moves cards like Risen Reef up. It’s also just a great mana sink for your Leafkin Druid mana, especially when it starts producing two.
As far as uncommons go, there’s a few at the same power level. I like Overgrowth Elemental because I like to jump right on Elementals when I’m green. Thrashing Brontodon might be a bit better since it doesn’t require anything else, and there’s also Wolfrider’s Saddle that I’ve been impressed with. All of these are pretty flat, and I don’t think you’re making a huge mistake if you take one over the other.
However, here’s where I’ll talk about Risen Reef since I don’t have a gold section. Risen Reef is one of the best uncommons in the set, if not the best. There’s so many common Elementals that when left unchecked, Risen Reef can simply take over a game single-handedly. Scampering Scorcher goes quite late with the bots so I don’t find it hard to pick up the “combo” when I get a Risen Reef. Risen Reef is the only gold card I’d take over Murder, the best common in the set.
One thing people like to know occasionally is where I’d rank the colors in strength. I’ve thought a bit about it, here’s where I have the current rankings.
It’s worth noting that white is a distant fifth. It’s quite weak across the board and I generally try to avoid it when possible.
Red, black and blue are incredibly close, and the only reason I have red as my number one is because of how regularly I’m getting late Shocks, Scampering Scorchers, and Lavakin Brawlers. I think the color is the most underdrafted by the bots as they likely take Murder very highly and end up in black more often.
Blue is really deep and is a consideration for best color as well. I just am not seeing Cloudkin Seer as much as other top commons, which leads me out of the color early.
Green is fine but I think a step below these colors outside of when you get busted Elemental decks with a lot of uncommons or rares.
I’ve put together a list of cards I think the bots are taking way too late. This doesn’t mean all of them wheel all the time, but I’m getting them deep into the pack from pick 7 all the way to last pick.
One of the biggest draws to white is how late I see cards like Master Splicer. I’m not getting those eighth pick all that often, but I get them pack one, pick four or five enough to push me into white when I’m just in one color. Loyal Pegasus I get incredibly late, and it’s not a particularly great card but goes quite well U/W Fliers. Faerie Miscreants, Loyal Pegasus, and Metropolis Sprites all go quite late with the bots. This gives Empyrean Eagle a ton of value because of these late pickups.
Scuttlemutt hasn’t been super impressive, but I grab one around pick six or so regularly, which is great for a card that can mess with the hoser cards and more. I’m almost always happy to play Scuttlemutt and it goes in any deck.
I don’t get Risen Reefs late pack one, but in later packs I get them late, likely because of the bots unwillingness to splash or something.
The last card I’ll mention on this list is Veil of Summer. It’s an excellent sideboard card with a lot of applications and I get it with three or less cards in the pack almost always. It’s worth trying to wheel that late if there’s something a little worse in the pack. The other color hoser cards I almost never see late.
As far as archetypes are concerned, I’ve had a ton of success with Temur Elemental decks, usually R/G or U/R splashing Risen Reef. Black-red grindy removal decks have also been great for me, especially if I can pick up enough Audacious Thieves to keep drawing into more removal.
One of the decks I’ve played with and against a lot is U/W with nothing but one-drop fliers. I’ve had a lot of success against this deck just using Heart-Piercer Bow to pick off all the Loyal Pegasus and Faerie Miscreants sitting around.
Lastly, U/B Control is also a great strategy if you can get the black removal. Scholar of the Ages shines as a top-end inevitability machine. Combined with Unsummon, Blood for Bones, or Soul Salvage you can take the game fairly easily once you stabilize.
That’s a lot of what I’ve learned over the past couple of days of drafting non-stop Core Set 2020. I really enjoy the format despite it being a Core Set, and if you haven’t started playing the format yet, I’d highly recommend it.