Welcome to my Pick 1, Pack 1 list for Core Set 2020! The goal of this article is to rank all cards in the set from high to low for the purpose of the first-pick, first-pack decision in draft. The ranking is also relevant as a rough guideline for the subsequent picks.
Before getting to the list, let me provide some context by going over the draft archetypes in this new Limited format.
Core Set 2020 Draft Archetype Breakdown
Even though this is a core set, it’s still wise to draft a coherent deck with a focus on synergy. Usually, you will be drafting one of the 10 color pairs, each of which has a signpost gold uncommon to pinpoint its theme.
In addition, in Core Set 2020 each wedge (i.e., an allied color pair and its enemy color) has a theme and an associated legendary creature. So half of the three-color combinations are well-supported too. I should note that all themes center most loudly in a wedge’s allied color combination, where enemy color combinations overlap in multiple wedges.
White-blue, white-red, blue-red, and Jeskai all support decks that contain lots of creatures with flying. As a result, cards like Winged Words, Flame Sweep, and Aerial Assault get a bit better when you’re drafting these colors.
When you’re drafting blue-red, blue-green, red-green, or Temur, you must pay special attention to creature types. Elementals like Chandra’s Embercat, Thicket Crasher, and Frost Lynx all go up in value due to tribal synergies.
White-black, white-green, black-green, and Abzan all have a go-wide theme. So token makers like Raise the Alarm, Ferocious Pup, and Boneclad Necromancer go up, and the same holds for payoffs like Inspired Charge, Gruesome Scourger, and Might of the Masses.
White-black also has a minor life gain theme, with Angel of Vitality, Bloodthirsty Aerialist, and a bunch of incidental life gain cards. This theme can be further supported by Moldervine Reclamation, the black-green signpost uncommon.
The Mardu wedge contains aggressively minded creatures along with the best common removal spells in the format: Pacifism, Murder, and Chandra’s Outrage. With such efficient spells, you shouldn’t focus too much on synergies. Just draft power over toughness, curve out with aggressive creatures, and clear the way.
When you’re drafting blue-black, blue-green, black-green, or Sultai, you want to place extra emphasis on creatures with enters-the-battlefield abilities. Ferocious Pup is a good example. With cards like Yarok’s Wavecrasher or Blood for Bones, you can re-use their enters-the-battlefield abilities.
Methodology and Data Sources
To construct an aggregate ranking, I took the weighed average of the following normalized grades:
· 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 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. I used LSV’s grades for a weight of 15%.
· My own initial grades. Like LSV, I gave a Limited grade between 0 and 5 to every card. These ratings are informed by playing a few Sealed decks on MTG Arena—Traditional Draft was not yet live—but they mostly convey my first impressions. I used my own grades for a weight of 35%.
· The Draftaholics Anonymous rankings, collected on Friday July 4. 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. I used their rankings for a weight of 15%.
· The LR Community review rankings, also collected on Friday July 4. These 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! I used their rankings for a weight of 20%.
· Draftsim.com. Draftsim is an online Draft simulator and practice tool where you can draft against computer opponents, and I received the average pick numbers of each card within a booster. This data is based on over 67,000 Core Set 2020 drafts done by users since the set was live. I transformed the average pick numbers so that the card with the lowest average pick number within a booster got a grade of 5.0 and the card with the highest average pick number within a booster got a grade of 0.0. Thanks to Dan Troha for providing me with the data! I used their rankings for a weight of 15%.
After taking the weighed average of the three grades, I made some adjustments for multicolor cards and colorless cards to get closer to a proper first-pick, first-pack order. After all, first-picking a gold card reduces your flexibility because it only goes into one color combination, whereas an artifact card keeps your options open. I subtracted 0.1 points for any gold card and added 0.1 point for any artifact.
The result was a number for every card in Core Set 2020—an aggregate of the above five sources that captures people’s first impressions. These numbers and the raw data in spreadsheet form can also function as a searchable text list. After I got a number for every card, all I had to do was to press sort, and the aggregate pick order list arose.
Tier 1: Bomb Rares/Mythics
Cards from this tier got a final adjusted rating between 4.1 and 5.0. If you prefer letter grades, then I would peg most of them as A-, A, or A+.
These are the best cards in the set according to this aggregate list, and I would first-pick them over any common or uncommon.
The cards are in order. This generally doesn’t matter for rares or mythics because there’s usually only one per pack. But Chandra, Awakened Inferno is pegged as the best card in the set, whereas Atemsis is on par with the best
Tier 2: Includes the Best Commons and Uncommons
Cards from this tier got an aggregate grade between 4.1 and 3.6. That’s approximately B+ or B.
In every single set in recent memory, the best uncommon was better than the best common. But when an efficient, unconditional removal spell like Murder gets downshifted from uncommon to common, this gets flipped on its head. The removal in this set is off the charts.
Remember that this is all one continuous list, to be read left-to-right, top-to-bottom, and that the cutoff for my category grouping is completely arbitrary. The way to read it is that Murder should be first-picked over Sephara or Omnath, which should in turn be first-picked over Chandra, Novice Pyromancer if they’re all in the same booster together. Rotting Regisaur is on par with the best card from the next tier, at least in a first-pick-first-pack context.
So according to this list, Murder is the best common to first-pick, followed by Pacifism, Cloudkin Seer, and Chandra’s Outrage, in that order. The best uncommons to first-pick are Chandra, Novice Pyromancer, Master Splicer, Air Elemental, and Disfigure, in that order.
Tier 3: Includes the 5th-8th Best Commons
Cards from this tier got an aggregate grade between 3.6 and 3.1. That’s approximately B-.
So according to this list, the next-best commons to first-pick are Rabid Bite, Shock, Frost Lynx, and Silverback Shaman, in that order. These are all perfectly acceptable cards to start your draft with.
Tier 4: Great Playables
Cards from this tier got an aggregate grade between a 3.1 and 2.7. That’s approximately C+.
Tier 5: Good Playables
Cards from this tier got an aggregate grade between 2.7 and 2.0. That’s approximately C or C-.
Tier 6: Mediocre Playables
Cards from this tier got an aggregate grade between 2.0 and 1.6. That’s approximately D+.
Tier 7: Mediocre Filler
Cards from this tier got an aggregate grade between 1.6 and a 0.9. That’s approximately D.
Tier 8: Bad Cards and Unplayables
Cards from this tier got an aggregate grade between 0.9 and a 0.0. That’s approximately D- or F.
A large amount of rares in the set is clearly earmarked for Constructed.
What is the Best Color?
Taking the aggregate grades for granted, the expected total as-fan grade per booster for each color is given below. (The total as-fan grade per booster of a certain color is the sum of the grades of mono-colored cards of that color in a freshly opened pack. For example, a freshly opened booster with a white common graded 3 and a white uncommon graded 2 and no other white cards would have a total as-fan white grade of 5. The expectation takes the long-run average over all possible boosters, using how often certain cards will show up in packs based on their rarity.)
- Green – 5.75
- Black – 5.45
- Blue – 5.41
- Red – 5.32
- White – 5.24
This analysis suggests that green is the best color. This is somewhat surprising because none of the top 4 commons are green, but the green commons overall are deep and there are multiple green bomb rares to prop up the expected total as-fan grade per booster.
Some Relevant Numbers
I love running the numbers, and Core Set 2020 includes several cards that are interesting from a mathematical perspective for Limited.
The mythic Cavalier cycle is amazing, but it is restrictive on your mana base. Even if you build a 10-7 mana base with 10 basic lands for the Cavalier color, you would only be able to cast a 2CCC card on-curve 78.6% of the time (using the definitions from my mana base article). With 11 sources, you would shoot up to 87.0%. So once you draft a Cavalier, put a premium on dual lands or card draw spells. Or consider running 18 lands so you can get that 11th source in there.
Assuming independent boosters, there are 2.4 copies of any non-land common per draft on average. But it’s better to think of this as saying that there are roughly 0.1 copies per unseen pack. So if you open your first pack and see Faerie Miscreant, then in expectation all other packs contain 2.3 Faerie Miscreants. That would translate to 3.3 copies in the draft as a whole. You have to continually update this number as you see more packs.
But before anyone opens their first pack, the probability that there are exactly 4 copies of any common in a draft is 12.7%, and the probability that there are 5 or more copies of any common in a draft is 8.2%. So that’s fairly unlikely.
For Faerie Miscreant and Undead Servant, I would like to have at least 4 copies before I would want to put them in my deck. With 4 copies, if you draw at least one in your top 13 cards, you are approximately 50-50 to have drawn another. That’s the point where I get interested, or at least they would move up a tier in terms of power level. Having a deck with 5 copies would be better, but even then the payoff is not amazing, and the likelihood of seeing 5 or more copies of a common in the draft is very low. I view Faerie Miscreant and Undead Servant as traps.
For Battalion Foot Soldier, I would already be very happy to play 3 because they all search each other. This one is worth an early speculative pick.
Growth Cycle and Pack Mastiff offer reasonable stats for their cost by themselves, so they’re already playable as singletons.
You need a lot of Goblins to make Goblin Ringleader worth it, and even then it’s not great. For example, if you manage to draft 10 Goblins, which is a tall order, then in expectation you will see approximately one Goblin in your top four. In that case, Goblin Ringleader becomes slightly better than Nimble Innovator, which is fine but nothing special.
And with 5 other Goblins, which is more reasonable, then in expectation you will see approximately half a Goblin in your top four. That’s not unplayable, but it would be a card I would often cut from my decks. With fewer than 5 Goblins, I would be very unhappy to run Goblin Ringleader.
I wouldn’t maindeck the uncommon color-hate cards. Consider Devout Decree, for example. If every opponent plays an arbitrary two-color deck, which is a reasonable assumption for MTGO Leagues or Arena drafts, then you’re 70% to face a black and/or red deck and 30% to face a deck that is neither red nor black. In my view, a 30% risk of having a dead card is too high, so leave them in your sideboard.