With M19 as the current Arena ranked Draft format, I figured I’d give a rundown of the format and a look at the best archetypes. This week’s Limited Resources was also about M19, and is a good companion piece to this (plus, this article is adapted from previous LR notes, so I’m really getting good value here).

Quick references

Andrea Mengucci’s guide to drafting Red Aggro
Frank Karsten’s Core Set 2019 pick order
M19 Draft videos
Ben Stark’s Pack 1 Pick 1 articles

M19 Fundamentals

This format is best described as no-frills Magic (well, with the exception of Frilled Sea Serpent). The synergies aren’t overwhelming, and cards largely stand on their own. Removal is good, you want a solid curve of creatures, and you don’t need to do anything fancy to have a good shot at winning.

Each color pair has a theme, but not all color pairs are equal. I’m going to go over the best six. The other four are viable, but less good. Let’s get started!

Deck Name: Black-White Life Gain Matters

Vampire NeonateAjani's PridemateDaybreak ChaplainRegal Bloodlord

Synopsis: This is perhaps the most obvious deck in M19. The cards break down into two categories: Enablers (cards that gain you life), and payoffs (cards that give you bonuses when you gain life)

Key commons: Enablers break into two categories. Repeat enablers and one-time enablers, with repeat enablers being much more important.
• Repeat Enablers: Ajani’s Welcome (note on this), Daybreak Chaplain, Vampire Neonate. Neonate is the best of these, and an underrated card in general. It’s a lot better than it looks.
• One-Time Enablers: Dwarven Priest, Invoke the Divine, Revitalize, Lich’s Caress, Sovereign’s Bite, Skymarch Bloodletter. Revitalize and Bite are not great—I’d avoid Bite in most decks, and only play Revitalize if you have 3+ payoffs.

Payoffs: Ajani’s Pridemate, Epicure of Blood, Nightmare’s Thirst, Regal Bloodlord

Notes: This archetype is fine, but it usually ends up winning more on card quality since there are so few payoffs for the life gain. I don’t like going for the bad life gain cards, but if you end up with two Pridemates I would run an Ajani’s Welcome.

B/W gets good removal and plays out like a very traditional midrange deck but with the option to get some passive benefit from Neonate and Epicure/Bloodlord.

Card Type Breakdown:

  • 17 lands
  • 14-16 creatures
  • 0-1 combat tricks
  • 4+ removal

Cards You Should Value Higher For This Archetype: Vampire Neonate, Epicure of Blood

Deck Name: Red-White Token Aggro

Gallant CavalryStar-Crowned StagGoblin InstigatorHeroic Reinforcements

Synopsis: Go wide, pump your team, profit.

This is a fully supported archetype in M19 thanks to a few token makers, but mainly because of not one but four mass pump effects at C/U: Inspired Charge, Trumpet Blast, Angel of the Dawn, and the very powerful Heroic Reinforcements.

Key Commons: Angel of the Dawn, Gallant Cavalry, Inspired Charge, Pegasus Courser, Star-Crowned Stag, Goblin Instigator, Trumpet Blast

Notes: There aren’t that many actual token makers, but that’s okay. Goblin Instigator and Gallant Cavalry do a fine job, and the truth is that you can totally just play an R/W aggro deck with Boggart Brutes, combat tricks, and some burn spells anyway.

This deck is efficient, powerful, and can be difficult to deal with if it gets to go wide.

Any black deck is a bad matchup, as they have Plague Mare (a.k.a. your worst enemy) and Skeleton Archer to pick off your creatures.

Your best matchup is probably U/G since they have a hard time killing your creatures.

Card Type Breakdown:

  • 16-17 lands
  • 14-16 creatures
  • 2-3 combat tricks
  • 2+ removal

Cards You Should Value Higher For This Archetype: Goblin Instigator, Trumpet Blast, Act of Treason

Deck Name: Blue-White Artifacts

Aviation PioneerSkyscannerGearsmith GuardianAerial Engineer

Synopsis: Some combination of a traditional U/W flyers deck with random payoffs for artifacts.

Key Commons: Aviation Pioneer, Scholar of Stars, Gearsmith Guardian, Skyscanner

Payoff Cards: Aethershield Artificer, Aerial Engineer, Scholar of Stars

Notes: Another not-fully-supported archetype, as there are just so few payoffs that going all in on the artifact side of things doesn’t make a ton of sense. The fundamental problem is that you have to run some unexciting artifacts if you want to justify the payoffs, but if you don’t find the payoffs in the Draft or during your games, you may have a battlefield full of Field Creepers and Explosive Apparatuses.

Scholar of Stars is a fine payoff card but not worth warping your deck for, and Gearsmith Guardian is a kind of reverse payoff that is actually pretty good at 5 mana for an (often) 5/5.

The times I have fully committed to this archetype and gotten a little lucky in opening up 4-6 payoff cards (especially the uncommons), the deck has been absurd. I had multiple games where I played Skyscanner into Scholar of Stars and just never ran out of gas.

If you are all-in, you’ll want 6+ artifacts or cards that make artifacts in the deck.

Card Type Breakdown:

  • 17 lands
  • 14-16 creatures
  • 6-ish artifacts

Cards You Should Value Higher For This Archetype: Gearsmith Guardian, Aviation Pioneer, Skyscanner

Deck Name: Blue-Red Spells

Salvager of SecretsEnigma DrakeDivinationAven Wind Mage

Synopsis: This deck looks to pair cheap spells with spell payoffs, with an emphasis on card-drawing and burn spells.

You’re supposed to get a bunch of payoffs and then play cantrips and card draw spells like Crash Through, Tormenting Voice, Uncomfortable Chill, then use Enigma Drake and Salvager of Secrets as payoffs.

Key Commons: Salvager of Secrets, Divination, Essence Scatter, Aven Wind Mage, Anticipate, Tormenting Voice, Crash Through

Notes: The real issue is that this kind of deck is fundamentally flawed from a big picture perspective, putting too much pressure on the payoffs to be amazing, and here, they just aren’t.

The flaw is that the more you cantrip through your deck, the more the land/spell ratio favors lands rather than spells in your library. This leaves you prone to flood more often, and if your payoffs aren’t winning you the game, you are kind of done.

Enigma Drake is a very good card, but if they simply kill it, your deck is full of air as you scramble to get your plan back on track. This deck is missing one more meaty payoff, so unless you get a really early Enigma Drake (and ideally two), it often just kind of spins its wheels.

Card Type Breakdown:

  • 16 lands if you can swing it
  • 11-12 creatures
  • 0 combat tricks
  • 2+ removal spells
  • 2-3 cantrips
  • 2-3 card draw spells

Cards You Should Value Higher For This Archetype: Enigma Drake is the primary payoff, but Salvager of Secrets has never looked this good.

Deck Name: Red-Green Ramp/Power 4 or Greater

Synopsis: This can either just be a more typical R/G ramp deck or if you can find Sarkhan’s Unsealing and/or Colossal Majesty, it can be a build-around deck for these cards.

Key Commons: Druid of the Cowl, Bristling Boar, Colossal Dreadmaw, Elvish Rejuvenator

Notes: Sometimes this is just a ramp deck looking to play an early Colossal Dreadmaw or something like that. You need some Druid of the Cowl action and maybe even some Elvish Rejuvenators to get the ball rolling.

For the build-around version, it’s different. Sarkhan’s Unsealing is super powerful and well worth warping your deck around. Cards like Onakke Ogre, Thornhide Wolves, Havoc Devils, Rhox Oracle, Bristling Boar all go up a lot.

You won’t have room for much other than creatures, the enchantments you get, and some removal if you can get your hands on it, but the deck tends to do well providing that it can avoid dying to flyers, so keep an eye out for Giant Spider and Plummet.

Card Type Breakdown:

  • 17 lands
  • 15-18 creatures
  • 0 combat tricks
  • 2 build-around enchantments if you can get them
  • 1-2 ramp spells

Cards You Should Value Higher For This Archetype: Anything with 4 power

Deck Name: Blue-Black Control

Essence ScatterLich's CaressPsychic SymbiontArcane Encyclopedia

Synopsis: Classic control deck with defensive creatures, removal, card draw, and finishers.

Key Commons: Essence Scatter, Salvager of Secrets, Divination, black removal

Notes: Cheap interaction is important, but Lich’s Caress is fantastic here, allowing you to kill any bomb you need to and buying you time by padding your life total. Cards like Aviation Pioneer can help you stabilize against evasive threats, and Dwindle is surprisingly effective against the big stuff.

Much of the real power of this deck comes from the uncommons: Psychic Symbiont, Sift, Exclusion Mage, Murder, Plague Mare, Vampire Sovereign, Arcane Encyclopedia

Sleep isn’t very good in this deck, as you aren’t often racing and just need to kill all their creatures anyway.

Finishers aren’t that important here as long as you pick up enough removal and card draw. As nice as it is to have a good rare at your top end, Frilled Sea Serpent can close out games just fine. You can also win through card advantage, overwhelming your opponent with sheer resources late in the game.

Card Type Breakdown:

  • 17-18 lands
  • 10-12 creatures
  • 0 combat tricks
  • 2-3 card draw spells

Cards You Should Value Higher For This Archetype: Nightmare’s Thirst, Rise from the Grave

If you do end up in W/G, R/B, U/G, or B/G, that’s totally fine, but there aren’t as many incentives to do so. If both colors are open, you will have a good deck, but all else being equal I’d rather be in one of these six pairs.

Good luck ranking up!