Previous Core Set 2019 Reviews
Let’s take a look at the grading scale, with the usual caveat that what I write about the card is more relevant, as there are many factors that aren’t reflected in a card’s grade.
5.0: The best of the best. (Siege-Gang Commander. Lyra Dawnbringer. Icy Manipulator.)
4.5: Incredible bomb, but not unbeatable. (Fight with Fire. In Bolas’s Clutches. Josu Vess, Lich Knight.)
4.0: Good rare or top-tier uncommon. (Cast Down. Slimefoot the Stowaway. Adeliz, the Cinder Wind.)
3.5: Top-tier common or solid uncommon. (Eviscerate. Shivan Fire. Cloudreader Sphinx.)
3.0: Good playable that basically always makes the cut. (Blink of an Eye. Llanowar Elves. Jousting Lance.)
2.5: Solid playable that rarely gets cut. (Windgrace Acolyte. Opt. Grow from the Ashes.)
2.0: Good filler, but sometimes gets cut. (Keldon Raider. Vodalian Arcanist. Dark Bargain.)
1.5: Filler. Gets cut about half the time. (Ghitu Lavarunner. Knight of New Benalia. Corrosive Ooze.)
1.0: Bad filler. Gets cut most of the time. (Cabal Evangel. Aesthir Glider. Arbor Armament.)
0.5: Very low-end playables and sideboard material. (Skirk Prospector. Unwind. Dub.)
0.0: Completely unplayable. (Shield of the Realm. Board the Weatherlight. One with Nothing.)
Act of Treason
Limited: 1.0 // 3.0
This is one of the more interesting cards in the set. By itself, it’s not great. It’s a narrow card for hyper-aggressive decks, but generally wrong to run. It doesn’t do much unless you’re really pressuring their life total, and isn’t worth a card in most circumstances. Where it gets good is when you’re in the sacrifice deck, usually red-black, and have 3+ ways to sacrifice whatever you steal. Once you have that, this becomes extremely threatening, as it’s Terminate plus deal damage to your opponent, and you even get the benefit of any death triggers their creature may have. I wouldn’t take this early, but it’s the most important payoff in the sacrifice deck, so once you’re deep into that this becomes a very high pick.
This is wildly unplayable in formats where Urza’s Tower doesn’t exist.
Apex of Power
Getting to 10 mana isn’t realistic, even if this effect is insanely powerful.
Banefire acts as a decent removal spell or a great finisher, and that flexibility is worth a lot. It’s even easily splashable, and in a format with Salvager of Secrets, is a card I’m taking very highly.
Menace makes this trade up well and get past 2/1s easily, while also making any combat trick you may have particularly brutal. I’d always run this in aggressive decks, and it’s fine even in midrange ones.
I’m not really looking to spend a card ramping out a 6-drop early, and a 2/2 for 3 is unimpressive otherwise. You’d have to be really desperate to run this, and it’ll rarely be rite to do so.
There’s a very light spells-matter theme in the set, so feel free to run this if you get extra benefit from it. Otherwise, it’s not worth a slot in your deck, as trample is such a minor upside.
I’m a fan of this. It is a 2/2 for 2 that has a lot of utility in the late-game, and can even replace itself if need be. Remember to always use this before playing a land, and if it’s open, the sacrifice deck is the best place for this by far.
It’s hard to demand much more than this, as it’s a 5/5 for 5 with solid upside. That’s a bomb under any definition, and a card I’d be overjoyed to open.
Like Dark-Dweller Oracle, this is good at any point in the game, and even lets you see extra cards in a similar fashion. Once you’ve rummaged to your heart’s content, you can dismiss the Pyromancer in exchange for one of their creatures, making this a great card in any deck.
Despite getting to Twincast Mind Sculpt and Divination in one of my favorite Draft videos (which has been lost to the sands of time), I’m not all that excited for Doublecast. It requires you to have a lot of good, cheap spells, and the upside isn’t as big as the risk of it being stuck in hand. If you do have 9+ other spells and at least 4 of them are cheap removal, this is likely worth it, but that isn’t the typical use case.
Limited: 1.5 // 3.0
This is a goose egg in an aggressive deck, playable but mediocre in a defensive one, and an all-star in the sacrifice-themed deck. Eating this for value gives you a very good flyer and whatever you got from sacrificing it, which is a great deal for 3 mana. One of the main strengths of the sacrifice deck is that you get a lot of value from cards other people don’t want, and Dragon Egg is a great example of that.
Shockingly, this is a piece of great removal. It kills almost anything you want, at instant speed, and doesn’t cost a ton. There are a million different burn spells in this set, and most of them are good—this is one of them.
Realistically, you aren’t cutting this most of the time, but it’s not a card I’m excited about. Paying 6 mana at sorcery speed is fine—you do need a way to finish off big creatures.
I suspect that you’ll play this a little more often than you did in Dominaria. It’s not great, but it sure has some stats.
This plays nicely with token and sacrifice themes, while also providing a fine pair of blockers for a more controlling deck. Cards like this punish 1 toughness attackers really well, so keep that in mind when looking at 2/1 ground creatures for your aggro deck.
Bloodlust Inciter ended up being a solid 2.0 in Amonkhet, but that was largely due to the speed of the format. I still don’t like this in most formats/decks, and I’m not feeling very motivated to play it here. You’d need a really aggressive deck that also had use for 1/1s, so perhaps an aggro sacrifice deck might want this. Either way, you will be able to get this late.
With two good common Goblins (and a less motivational one), plus a couple of uncommons, the Trashmaster is a solid pick. I wouldn’t slam it early, but it isn’t trash either—most red decks won’t mind running this. Plus, every now and then you’ll snipe an artifact with the second ability.
Limited: 1.0 // 3.0
Once you’ve got 9+ spells in your deck, Guttersnipe is a legit threat. It’s not an early pick, but I bet blue-red spells decks wouldn’t mind using this as a decent finisher.
These have good stats and a relevant keyword. For red, that’s pretty good, as red creatures tend to be pretty medium. Even with the RR casting cost, I don’t think red decks will be in the business of cutting Havoc Devils (unless they are the defensive spell-based version).
I wouldn’t call this amazing, but it’s better than average in beatdown decks. Curving into Hostile Minotaur pressures the opponent a lot, and it’s able to close games out reasonable well. Between this and Havoc Devils, red has some good options at 4, which funnily enough makes either of these less of a priority to pick up.
At the very least, Inferno Hellion hits hard. If you want to attack the opponent, this is decent 4-drop, and it combines nicely with bounce spells. Your opponent will often just take the hit, after which you bounce and replay it. In a pinch, this can block, but I’m not all that excited about doing that.
Lathliss, Dragon Queen
Lathliss is essentially a 5/5 flyer for 6 with minor upside, but Dragons are Dragons, and this can close out games nicely. I’m not in the business of passing up on huge flying finishers, even if you aren’t getting max value from all her tribal synergies (though, with Sparktongue Dragon at common, it’s not impossible to imagine).
I don’t think most red decks will want this as a way to end games. Creatures are great, and red isn’t lacking for quality options at the top of the curve. I suppose a hyper aggro deck might want two of these as the only 5-drops, but that isn’t where I’d start.
This can breath enough lightning to take down bigger creatures or punch for extra damage, making it a good option for heavy red aggressive decks. It even will randomly run past blue creatures, which will be solid upside in some matchups.
This is, and has always been, an excellent deal. It doesn’t quite crack 4.0, and is better than Electrify, so it probably deserves a 3.5. Lightning Strike efficiently kills most creatures, and can even dome the opponent if the game gets to that point.
The main problem with 4/2s is that they tend to trade down for 2-drops, so if you end up playing this, make sure that it’s backed up by removal. It does hit hard, so it’s playable if you need more bodies. Also, poor Gray Ogre—its Onakke cousins put it to shame at family reunions.
This trend of super-narrow planeswalkers is an interesting one. Opening Sarkhan isn’t going to very exciting, unlike most planeswalkers across Magic’s history, as you just won’t have the Dragons you need to make this playable. Sarkhan acts like a bad looter, and that’s not something I’m interested in.
Limited: 1.0 // 3.0
You need a lot of high-power creatures for this to be playable, and the main risk is that you end up with a deck with too high a curve. Onnake Ogre is your best friend in that case, and the reward from Sarkhan’s Unsealing is high enough to easily justify it. I like this as an early draft-around, and think it’ll lead to some sweet (and good) decks.
Efficient removal never gets old, and you want a mix of these and Electrifies in most decks. There are some decks where this isn’t the best, but every deck will have plenty of targets, and spending 1 mana to kill a 2- or 3-drop is very powerful.
Cowards can’t block giants, or much of anything, when this is in play. Siegebreaker Giant is an excellent drop for the top of your curve, and exactly what red decks want to sink their mana into. It also rewards combat tricks very nicely, as the opponent will be priced into blocking whenever they can, so draft with that in mind. I could see moving this up to a 3.5 if red decks want the finisher that badly.
If you’re dealt this last pick, make sure not to accidentally play it. It’s not even a great sideboard card since there aren’t that many artifacts, and some of them are Thopters.
Now this is an exciting common. It’ll mostly be a 3/3 flyer for 5, but red never gets that at common, and having a powerful mana sink at 8 is pretty sweet. This is a real payoff for ramping, and it single-wingedly makes red an appealing color to pair with ramp cards. I’m excited about what this might mean for the format, as it’s a very impactful common to see show up.
It’s not often that you’ll buy this back, but Sparktongue Dragon helps, and at worst this is still a very good spell.
Havoc Devils makes this a little better than it was before, and in any case it’s a solid combat trick. You usually don’t need to go after those aggressively, but also shouldn’t feel bad if a couple end up in your deck.
Don’t let the land destruction element fool you. This is a finisher, and you are rarely going to want to snap this off as a land destruction spell on turn 4. I’d rather just have Lava Axe or Act of Treason, but if you miss on all of those, this can close out games. It’s also a fine sideboard card against board stalls or Gift of Paradise, even if it isn’t earth-shaking.
Limited: 1.5 // 3.0
At a base level, this isn’t very good. 2-for-1’ing yourself to kill a creature isn’t a good deal, and finishing the opponent with this is largely ambitious. Where it gets really good is when you have multiple copies of Act of Treason, at which point you’ve got a two card combo that makes an impact. It’s still a 2-for-2, but they spent more mana on their side, and you turned late picks into premiere removal spells. This does combo kill with Inferno Hellion, so keep that in mind.
I never feel bad about playing Tormenting Voice, but it’s never loudly awesome either. It gets a little better in the U/R Spells deck, but past that is about as replaceable as it gets. Spending 2 mana to move cardboard around isn’t good in aggro, and isn’t really a payoff for control.
Limited: 1.0 // 2.0
Normal decks definitely don’t want this, and it isn’t insane unless you’re on the mono-tokens plan. If you want this, you’ll get it—having a Blast is easy to do in this format.
As far as 2/1s for 2 go, this is about the middle of the pack. Yes, it technically has an effect later in the game, but 2 damage isn’t lighting the world on fire. I also don’t like how many tokens and Doomed Dissenters there are running around, so I’m skeptical that 2/1s are where you want to be.
Volcanic Dragon punches hard and fast, making it a desirable finisher for aggro or control alike. I’m happy taking this early, even if it’s a touch below most of the burn spells (due to how I prioritize expensive cards, my reputation notwithstanding).
The floor on this is pretty high—it always pings for 1 (barring the opponent removing it in response to the trigger). That makes it playable even as the lone Goblin, and it isn’t hard to pick up a couple more and threaten to deal 2-3 damage. That is an awesome card, and Volley Veteran is a real reason to draft Goblins.
Top 5 Red Commons
The top couple commons are easy—burn spells, a large flyer, and an aggressively-costed 4-drop. I have Act of Treason 5th, but with an asterisk. The reason is that whatever common I put there (Boggart Brute, Goblin Instigator, Hostile Minotaur), you weren’t picking it early under normal circumstances. Therefore, I’d rather slot in the very high upside build-around, even though it won’t always be reliably good. Red seems solid—good burn as always, but actual good creatures to boot.