Core Set 2019 is the first core set in several years. Like previous core sets, it doesn’t introduce any new mechanics and focuses more on the fundamentals of Limited. Today I’ll offer some insights into the new Limited format, along with a Pick 1 Pack 1 list. I used the same aggregation method as I did for the previous three sets, which means that I took the average of the normalized grade of the following three sources:

  • LSV’s set reviews. In this classic article series, LSV provides a Limited grade between 0 and 5 for every card in the set. I’m well aware that what he writes about the card is more relevant than the grade, but the grade still conveys some information. If a range was specified for a card, then I took the middle point as the rating.
  • The Draftaholics Anonymous rankings, collected on Saturday, July 7th. Their scores for cards are derived from users who are presented with choices between two cards in a Pick 1 Pack 1 context. I scaled the ratings so that the card with the highest score became a 5.0 and the card with the lowest score became a 0.0, in line with LSV’s ranking scale.
  • The LR Community review rankings, also collected on Saturday, July 7th. Their rankings are based on a project by cricketHunter where hundreds of users submit Limited grades for every card in the new set. I scaled the grades so that the card with highest grade became a 5.0. Thanks to cricketHunter for providing me with the raw data!

After taking the average of the three grades, I subtracted 0.25 points for any 2-color multicolor card, subtracted 0.5 points for any 3-color Elder Dragon, and added 0.25 points for any colorless card. These adjustments are made to get closer to a proper first-pick first-pack order. After all, a multicolored card reduces flexibility, whereas an artifact keeps your options open. These effects did not appear to be accounted for in LSV’s set review or the LR Community review, hence the adjustment.

The end result was a number for every card in Core Set 2019—an aggregate of the above three sources. My raw data, which may double as a searchable text list, is available here. After I got a number for every card, all I had to do was to press sort, and the pick order list arose.

This methodology leads to a list that captures first impressions. Indeed, most rankings were made before anyone even had a chance to play with the cards. But it’s a good starting point for newcomers and an excellent tool for discussions. By fixing a ranking, statements like “this card is overrated” or “this card is underrated” become more concreted. It also allows for some fun analysis.

What is the Best Color?

Taking the grades for granted, I found the following. The first three columns indicate the power of the best commons and uncommons in every color. The final column takes the average grade over all rarities, including rares and mythics, weighed according to their relative occurrence.

Color Average grade of the top 5 commons Average grade of the top 10 commons Average grade of the top 5 uncommons Average overall grade, weighed for rarity
White 3.32 2.84 3.28 2.30
Blue 2.87 2.67 3.29 2.30
Black 3.01 2.67 3.40 2.21
Red 3.10 2.64 3.17 2.14
Green 2.88 2.66 3.03 2.16

Combining all of the columns, it seems that white is the best color in Core Set 2019 and that green is the worst color in this Limited format.

Now let’s turn to the first-pick first-pack list. Remember that it’s essentially one big continuous list, to be read left-to-right, top-to-bottom. I added a few headings only to make it easier to read and so that I could intersperse some comments, but the categories are arbitrary.

Bomb Rares/Mythics

These are the best cards in the set, and it seems reasonable to first-pick them over any common or uncommon.

The Part with the Best Uncommons

According to this list, the best uncommon to first-pick is Murder. You can’t go wrong with unconditional removal, but I would still favor game-winning bombs like Bone Dragon or Vivien Reid over it.

There are four rares I would pick below Lightning Strike and perhaps even below Hieromancer’s Cage: Hungering Hydra, Lena, Selfless Champion, Mentor of the Meek, and Sigiled Sword of Valeron. Hungering Hydra will be a Hill Giant or Durkwood Bears with flavor text most of the time, Lena will usually make 3 tokens, Mentor of the Meek is a Gray Ogre that doesn’t want to get into combat, and Sigiled Sword of Valeron is an expensive Marauder’s Axe that creates a suicidal, easily-blocked 2/2. They’re still good early picks with relevant abilities, but often their stats won’t be worth their mana costs. I would prefer one of the good uncommon removal spells.

This category also holds four of the Elder Dragons. They have a restrictive mana cost for your deck, but they counter-intuitively don’t restrict your Draft as much as a 2-color gold signpost uncommon. After all, these Elder Dragons are perfect for 2-color decks that splash a third (maybe with the help of a dual land or Manalith) and there are three such 2-color combinations for every Elder Dragon.

The Part with the Best 6 Commons

According to this list, Luminous Bonds is the best common to first-pick. Interestingly, the six best commons feature three white ones, two red ones, and one black ones. This continues the theme of white being the best color in this Limited format and green being the worst one.

Partly based on this color preference, I would move up Angel of the Dawn. It’s a reprint of Dawnfeather Eagle, which was awesome in Aether Revolt Limited, and I think Angel of the Dawn is a better start to a Draft than Shock. Shock is somewhat situational, as it’s useless when your opponent has a bunch of 3+ toughness creatures.

Apart from these commons, there are several other cards that I believe to be under- or overrated in the public’s first impressions:

The Part with the Other Good Commons

Underrated Cards

  • Ajani’s Pridemate. It’s one of the few life-gain payoffs in a set that contains a lot of life gain cards.
  • Prodigious Growth. Even if they have a sorcery-speed removal spell, you got so much damage in that you don’t even mind the 2-for-1. And if they don’t have a removal spell, then they probably lose the game on your next attack.
  • Dryad Greenseeker. It has reasonable stats, and tapping to draw a card slightly less than half of the time is a very powerful ability.
  • Knightly Valor. This is the second time it’s been reprinted, and it’s been excellent every time it was in Limited.

Overrated Cards

  • Take Vengeance. This would be amazing as a blue card, but I think the best white decks will be aggressive, based around Star-Crowned Stag. Despite its synergy with the Stag, Take Vengeance doesn’t fit an aggro deck all that well. In the white decks that I envision drafting, I will often keep this in the sideboard and only bring it in on the draw.
  • Gallant Cavalry. It’s a fine turn-4 play, but it’s not that impactful in a set filled with 2/3s and 2/4s.

The Bread and Butter of Your Creature Base

Usually planeswalkers are slam-dunk first picks, but Liliana, Untouched by Death and Sarkhan, Fireblood are hard to exploit. There are four common Zombies, including Doomed Dissenter, but most of them are pretty bad. And there is only one common Dragon, which makes Sarkhan mostly a rummager with an ultimate. I think the planeswalkers are properly rated here.

Underrated Cards

Overrated Cards

  • Arcane Encyclopedia: Good in Sealed, but a little slow for Draft.
  • Elvish Rejuvenator, Fell Specter, Rhox Oracle, and Salvager of Secrets. Card advantage is nice and all, but the base body on these creatures is abysmal. Elvish Rejuvenator, by the way, will reliably produce a land (whiffing only 4.6% of the time in a 17-land deck) but won’t always grant your splash color. For example, if you’re splashing with four Islands, then in the relevant games where you haven’t already drawn an Island by turn 3 on the play, an on-curve Elvish Rejuvenator will hit an Island 52% of the time. 3-color decks are better off with Gift of Paradise.

The Part with the Lands

Here we see the 10 dual lands. The Draftaholics Anonymous and LR Community didn’t give identical rankings to the rare lands, and the result is this awkwardly lengthy category.

The dual lands never appear in a common slot; they can only appear in the basic land slot, and you’re 4.2% to see any given dual land in a booster. This percentage is 3.8% for uncommons and 9.0% for commons, so the actual rarity of the dual lands is close to uncommon.

Their presence in the set does mean that boosters are slightly deeper: with 0.4 duals per booster on average, we have 14.4 relevant cards in total.

There was a high deviation in the rankings of the dual lands across my sources. In my opinion, the rankings of Draftaholics Anonymous and the Limited Resources Community were too low. LSV’s grade of 3 was more in line with my view. I like playing 1-2 tapped duals in 2-color decks for mana consistency. Even though they are effectively multicolor cards, Woodland Stream’s position in the current list is much closer to where I’d pick them than Meandering River’s position.

Filler

Underrated Cards

  • Metamorphic Alteration. The main use of this card will be to put it on an opposing creature as pseudo-removal. Since there are enough tiny creatures like Aviation Pioneer or Omenspeaker (as I already mentioned for Switcheroo) Metamorphic Alteration is not that different from Dwindle.
  • Thornhide Wolves, Onakke Ogre, Oreskos Swiftclaw, and Fire Elemental. Early in the Draft, I prefer securing creatures for my curve over filler spells or random tricks. All of these creatures have perfectly reasonable stats for their cost and should move closer to the “bread and butter of your creature base” category.
  • Oakenform. It’s the best Aura in a color with Satyr Enchanter and Druid of Horns. Also, attacking with a 5/5 vigilant Greenwood Sentinel on turn 3 can randomly win games.

Overrated Cards

Unplayables

Several nice pickups for “collectability reasons” round out the pick order.

My Core Set 2019 Bucket List

Although you don’t have to draft around a theme in a core set, there are still some synergies. Here are 10 inspiring sweet plays, powerful combos, and awesome decks that I want to assemble at least once over the lifetime of this format:

  1. Pump a Novice Knight with Aegis of the Heavens when I control Arcades, the Strategist. Take 10!
  2. Alternatively, just curve Novice Knight into Knight’s Pledge.
  3. Turn-3 Death Baron, turn-4 Skeleton Archer.
  4. Turn-3 Mentor of the Meek, turn-4 Leonin Warleader, turn 5 attack for maximum value.
  5. Have my opponent pick up and read Windreader Sphinx when I try to draw a card off of their flyer. Yes, that’s really what it says.
  6. Draft a deck with three Act of Treason and two Thud.
  7. Use Transmogrifying Wand to upgrade my own Doomed Dissenter or Goblin Instigator.
  8. Use Transmogrifying Wand to turn Nicol Bolas, the Ravager into an Ox.
  9. Kill Hungering Hydra or Phylactery Lich with Suncleanser.
  10. Have a game locked up completely with Patient Rebuilding, only for them to mill Bone Dragon and steal the game.

Since the prime goal of this aggregate list is to spawn debate, let me know which cards you felt were overrated or underrated. Also, if you have sweet additions to the bucket list, then don’t hesitate to share in the comment section below!