It’s been hard to keep up with all the new cards Wizards is producing–Modern Horizons was just here but we’re already on to Core Set 2020–but I’ve finally taken a good look at all the cards and even got an opportunity to play with some of the cards in Limited during a streamer Early Access event. Core Set 2020 is certainly a step down in power level from War of the Spark, but it’s still got some pretty sweet and pretty focused cards.
My 10 Favorite Cards From Core Set 2020
Let me start with a couple of honorable mentions.
Kaalia, Zenith Seeker
Kaalia, Zenith Seeker has the casting cost and body of a Mantis Rider, but instead of haste we get a value ability. Kaalia is legendary, so we can’t have multiple in play like Mantis Rider, but in a deck like Boros Angels–now with better mana thanks to Temple of Triumph–we could easily slide Kaalia into the three-mana slot. If there’s enough playable Angels, Dragons, or Demons after rotation, then Kaalia is a perfect slot in at three mana. I’ve compared this card to Rogue Refiner at its rate and power level assuming you can build a deck with enough of the preferred creature types. It’s quite possible Kaalia never sees play in Standard if the creatures to play her with don’t materialize, but it’s also quite possible we see her as an incredible build-around. The power level is certainly there.
Omnath, Locus of the Roil
Omnath is simply a tremendous card. It picks off planeswalkers or small creatures and leaves a body in play to continue to grow and eventually draw some cards down the road. Omnath is very similar to Kaalia in that we’ll have to see how many Elementals are in the future to truly understand how good it can be. Risen Reef is a hell of a card, but outside of that most of the Elementals that you could play before Omnath would be fairly weak in a midrange creature deck. I’ll certainly have my eye on Omnath as sets develop, because as future Standard continues to grow, Omnath could end up being one of the more important cards in the format.
To the top 10:
10: Leyline of Abundance
Full disclosure: I wasn’t quite sure if I should add this card to my list. It’s everything I dislike about Magic cards. It requires you to have it in your opening hand, it requires you to have other things going on (mana dorks), and the strategies it belongs in are extremely weak to sweepers and cheap removal. On top of all of that, it has a real Teferi, Time Raveler and Goblin Chainwhirler problem.
What I do like is the explosiveness. Yes, you have to be very lucky to play this and Llanowar Elves on turn one, but right now we have a lot of mana creatures, and good ones to boot. Paradise Druid, Llanowar Elves, Incubation Druid, and even Leafkin Druid are all options. We’ve seen ramp decks with a lot of mana creatures have some success, and this Leyline not only makes them more explosive, it acts as a mana sink when you run out of gas. After rotation, I’m not sure if this card gets better or worse. We lose some of the problems it may have–potentially fewer Teferis of both kinds and Goblin Chainwhirler will be gone–but we also lose our best mana creature in Llanowar Elves.
I think the power level of this card deserves some recognition, especially with the London Mulligan coming with it. Don’t sleep on Leyline of Abundance.
Nothing flashy about Disfigure, but it’s a big step up from cards like Moment of Craving and Fungal Infection. Having a one-mana removal spell that can take out two-toughness creatures, much like Shock, gives black decks a tool we haven’t had since Fatal Push rotated. While Disfigure is certainly a step down from Fatal Push, it’s a card we’ll see in maindecks and sideboard until it rotates.
8: Dread Presence
I haven’t seen many people talking about this, and that surprises me. Dread Presence can be compared to Tireless Tracker, one of the best value creatures in the history of Standard. Of course, Dread Presence costs more mana to cast, doesn’t grow as the game progresses, and you lose a life when you draw a card–but crucially you don’t have to pay mana to draw cards. You need Swamps, which means no fetch land shenanigans, but you can still play this on turn five along with a basic Swamp, draw a card and cast a Duress to protect it. Also, Dread Presence allows us to Shock anything and gain two. Yes, anything. Dread Presence can come down and eat planeswalkers on two or less loyalty in the same turn or help stabilize against a red deck.
Dread Presence requires a commitment to black, but I still think you can play it in a black deck splashing another color, with shock lands also triggering its ability. We also have cards like Cabal Stronghold still in the format to give us more strong incentives to stay mono-black. While I certainly want to get some reps in with Dread Presence, I think people are sleeping on it and it’s a card I plan to try and push.
7: Drawn from Dreams
Drawn from Dreams is going to be an important card for blue control decks moving forward. We will be losing Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and we’ll need to have a good replacement to keep traction and continue to out-grind the opponent. Drawn from Dreams will find us that key sweeper or piece of interaction we need, while also finding us more copies of itself, or maybe Narset, Parter of Veils to keep the cards flowing. Because of Teferi, Time Raveler, we’re mostly living in a sorcery-speed world now anyways, so that’s not the biggest of downsides. We can play more of a tapout deck, and with Little Teferi we can cast Drawn from Dreams at instant speed anyway.
While Drawn from Dreams is certainly worse than the blue card engines we’ve had recently in Search for Azcanta, Narset, and Teferi Hero of Dominaria, I think it’s still good enough to see play in low numbers immediately, and in higher numbers after rotation.
6: Planar Cleansing
Planar Cleansing is the exact kind of card this format needs. The format is full of planeswalker decks like Esper that also sprinkle in some creatures, which makes it hard to have cards that can account for everything. Planar Cleansing has been lackluster before, but I think in current Standard, especially with the help of Teferi, Time Raveler, Planar Cleansing will actually see play. One of the only ways to beat a huge Command the Dreadhorde was The Elderspell, but I’ve often played games where I die with The Elderspell in my hand to a runaway Hero of Precinct One, wishing my interaction could cover all the bases. Planar Cleansing will likely be played in low numbers, but with Narset, Drawn from Dreams, and perhaps most importantly Search for Azcanta, we’ll be able to dig for Planar Cleansing reliably. Azcanta plays a big part in why Planar Cleansing will be a good tool for control decks, as it’s a card advantage engine that will remain in play after a resolved Planar Cleansing.
Planar Cleansing may end up like it usually does, as a one-of sideboard card we rarely see, but I have higher hopes given the amount of planeswalkers in the format and the ability to dig for Cleansing.
5: The Color Hosers
It’s hard to not lump all these together because they’re all so good, certainly enough to see immediate play in Standard. The most notable part is that they cover both creatures and planeswalkers. One of the biggest issues boarding removal spells in current Standard is you’ll bring in a card like Cast Down for Thief of Sanity, only to lose to Teferi. Or you bring in The Elderspell only to lose to the Thief of Sanity this time. Well, Fry is going to cover all your bases and not leave you vulnerable to half of their threats. I love this about these cards, and I think they will meaningfully increase my enjoyment of Standard.
What leaves me so curious is the immediate shift in design philosophy. We saw split cards, which appeared to be printed for best-of-one play, and then an immediate shift to sideboard cards printed for best-of-three play. While these cards could certainly end up in maindecks from time to time given the right metagame, I’m happy we’re moving in this direction.
4: Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord
It’s no secret anymore: Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord is incredible–every ability is useful and important, from putting Champion of the Dusk into play on turn three, drawing two or three cards off it, and then continuing to throw Vampires at opposing creatures while gaining life at the same time. Vampires with Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan were solid, but they were missing a little bit still. Now we finally have everything to make Vampires a viable competitive Standard deck.
My biggest issue with Sorin, and why its lower on my list, is that it has a serious rotation problem. Ixalan is moving out of Standard soon, and as soon as that happens Sorin goes from one of the most impactful cards in Standard to a card that will need more Vampires printed to do much. With more sets in Standard, the better cards that are this focused become, and once we move to smaller Standard I’m afraid Sorin will sit in a box collecting dust.
Other than that, Sorin is the best card for Standard in Core Set 2020 right now.
3: Icon of Ancestry
Icon of Ancestry, a value-generating Anthem effect for any tribe, will obviously see play in any tribal decks. Much like Vampires, almost all tribal decks will be worse in a smaller Standard, but Icon of Ancestry only needs any tribe to be good for it to see play. Most tribal decks are often weak to sweeper effects, and Icon of Ancestry produces more power on the battlefield while not dying to Kaya’s Wrath. While it’s not exciting to have an anthem in play with no creatures, Icon allows you to find more and will allow tribal decks to go toe-to-toe with control decks in generating extra cards. If tribal decks are good, Icon will be good too. So even if Icon of Ancestry loses some ground early in Standard, it’s definitely a card you’ll want to keep looking at as new sets get added to Standard.
2: Shifting Ceratops
Shifting Ceratops is just a good rate, as a 5/4 creature for four mana that has additional upside in that it can gain more abilities. That would be enough to see play in Dinosaur decks as-is, but the fact it’s got built-in protection from blue and can’t be countered makes it a huge threat in this eight-Teferi world we’re living in. It’s weak to removal like Cast Down, but very strong in the current planeswalker world. Shifting Ceratops will demand blue decks produce answers, otherwise it will simply take over games, ignoring both Teferi’s abilities and picking them off one at a time. I mostly see playing Shifting Ceratops as a five-drop, because haste is incredibly important in today’s games, where getting maximum value out of everything is incredibly relevant, but the flexibility to play it at four mana is incredible.
Shifting Ceratops is going to have a bit of the Goblin Chainwhirler effect on the format, where as a blue deck you can’t be too soft to it or it’ll just run you over, but once you shape your deck to compete with it, it’ll be just a solid card. I’m excited for this one, and extra excited for it while Dinosaurs are still a thing. Marauding Raptor is another card from M20 to help make that a thing, and a card that just narrowly fell off my list. I’ve been waiting since Ixalan’s release to cast Commune with Dinosaurs in Standard and Shifting Ceratops may finally give me enough reason.
1: Chandra, Awakened Inferno
Chandra reminds me a little bit of Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. An effective sweeper effect against non-Elementals–a creature type we may see more and more of moving forward–but mostly right now includes lands animated by Nissa. This means these cards will work together, but you won’t be able to sweep up opposing Nissa lands. Chandra can also close the door on control decks fast. The emblems that stick around even after Chandra is gone and are unable to be removed become a huge issue for a deck trying to close the door slowly. The fact Chandra is uncounterable simply makes it a nightmare for those kinds of decks, and they’ll have to adapt by playing real threats. The minus ability makes narrow battlefields a good spot for Chandra as well. Chandra kill a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and still have a loyalty left over to start creating emblems.
Chandra is likely to see as much play as it can at its casting cost. Its biggest problem right now is Nissa, Who Shakes the World, but she’s also Chandra’s best friend. I can definitely see the two played side-by-side as an effective top-end in Gruul decks. Chandra is my favorite card from the set because I see it having an impact for as long as it’s legal, it doesn’t need synergies to maximize potential, and will always be a card opponents must consider.
Core Set 2020 looks like a neat set for Standard. It’s going to add a couple of decks like Vampires and Dinosaurs into the mix, but will also upgrade every deck and sideboard with the color hosers. I’m excited to see if the new archetypes can compete with the incredibly powerful decks like Esper and Mono-Red, or if decks like Vampires will still be just out of reach. What’s your favorite card I didn’t have on my list?