Core 2019 is right around the corner and I’m pretty excited to bust open some packs and get to work playing with these cards. One thing I’ve noticed is that while I don’t think the set is weak, it’s definitely weaker than Dominaria overall. I also noticed a lot of build-around-type cards in the set, which makes it excellent for brewing.  I’ve compiled a list of my favorite cards from Core 2019 for Standard. While the set has some cool things going on, in a Standard format as large as this one, we’ll see more of these cards after rotation.

10) Chromium, the Mutable

Chromium is clearly designed to end control mirrors faster, and after my experience in Grand Prix Pittsburgh, it couldn’t come any sooner. Chromium has the ability to dodge removal by discarding a card, but that leaves it vulnerable in combat against a flying creature that has already blocked it, or when you try to ambush an attacker with it. This is the kind of hexproof ability I can get behind. This card likely won’t end up in many main decks unless something strange happens and control becomes a huge share of the metagame, but will be a useful tool for control mirrors and out of control decks against slower midrange decks. I think we may see this card as a 1-of in current Standard before rotation as a haymaker out of Esper Control specifically for mirrors, but I could also see Chromium seeing play in a deck alongside the next card on my list, Sarkhan, Fireblood, as both a Dragon to cast and discard to it, to then reanimate later as a resilient threat. Chromium will have some time to shine.

9) Sarkhan, Fireblood

I won’t lie—I thought this card was weak when I first saw it. We don’t have many Dragons in Standard at the moment, and while we get a few more in Core 2019, I didn’t really see a shell for it. After thinking about it a bit, I came to the conclusion that Sarkhan, Fireblood could be worth building around. Sarkhan has the ability to churn out Dragons quickly, and to discard cards to draw new ones. My first thought was a Dragon deck with Liliana, Death’s Majesty, or other reanimation-type spells like Rise from the Grave. Sarkhan can both cast these Dragons and discard them to be brought into play later. With both Glorybringer and Demanding Dragon currently in the format, we could even see a deck going deep on 5-drops to exploit the planeswalker.

This card reminds me a lot of Mox Amber in that it’s potentially a great card if the shell exists, but it may not exist right now, or ever. I have my eye on Sarkhan, Fireblood, but I won’t be surprised whether it’s a home run or a flop. I could see this card having some immediate impact on Standard because of its great synergy with Liliana, Death’s Majesty and the fact that Glorybringer is still around, and I could also see some more potent Dragons being printed, giving the planeswalker a boost in the future. This is one of the cards I’m most excited about brewing with.

8) Reclamation Sage

Reclamation Sage is just a great addition to any Standard format. While it’s a bit of a lazy addition to my list, it’s a card that will almost certainly see play in decks like G/B Constrictor that utilize Adventurous Impulse. A couple of downsides to Reclamation Sage over traditional Naturalize effects is that its body lines up poorly against Goblin Chainwhirler, and with U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift running around you may really want your enchantment or artifact removal to be instant speed. That said, this card is much better against decks like U/W Control where eating a Cast Out and advancing your position with the same card is a huge benefit. I think Reclamation Sage will still be a good Standard card, but we may not see it as our enchantment and artifact removal of choice until after God-Pharaoh’s Gift rotates.

7) Liliana, Untouched by Death

There are a lot of Zombies making their way into Core Set 2019, and with some support from the old cast in Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation, there may just be some room for Zombies to have an immediate impact on Standard. Liliana, Untouched by Death is a payoff for building a Zombies deck much like the one Gerry Thompson won Pro Tour Amonkhet with. Liliana resembles Chandra, Torch of Defiance in these decks by both giving you a +1 that can drain out your opponent, a minus that can eat up a creature with the right supporting cast, and generate card advantage with its -3 ability, allowing you to recast Zombies in your graveyard.

With Liliana’s Mastery, Lord of the Accursed, and new additions Death Baron and Diregraf Ghoul, Zombies is an extremely deep tribe—deeper than any of the Ixalan tribes. I think Zombies is the best new deck to test from the get-go, and Liliana, Untouched by Death is a great payoff for that strategy. Unfortunately for Liliana, if that deck doesn’t pan out, she has nowhere to go.

6) Tezzeret, Artifice Master

Tezzeret, Artifice Master looked great to me when I first read it, then I remembered good old Goblin Chainwhirler. That said, once the sets rotate from Standard and Goblin Chainwhirler isn’t put into play every three to four turns in every match, Tezzeret, Artifice Master is a really powerful planeswalker. Tezzeret has a plus ability that gains an on-board advantage while also protecting itself, a 0 ability that allows you to draw up to two cards a turn when it’s in the right build, and an ultimate that closes a game out in short order. On top of all of that, Tezzeret, Artifice Master has a good amount of starting loyalty to help it survive long enough to get a great deal of value out of it. Tezzeret has incredible synergy with Karn, Scion of Urza and I expect and hope to see these two cards as good friends once rotation hits. I am skeptical that Tezzeret, Artifice Master will see much play in the later stages of current Standard, but once there isn’t so much incentive to be mostly red and Goblin Chainwhirler becomes much tougher to cast, I think we may see Tezzeret, Artifice Master create its own archetype alongside Karn, Scion of Urza.

5) Stitcher’s Supplier

Stitcher’s Supplier is one of the coolest cards from Core 2019. There are a few archetypes I think of when I see Stitcher’s Supplier, but my mind immediately goes to God-Pharaoh’s Gift with Gate to the Afterlife. Stitcher’s Supplier fills your graveyard in a hurry while also being a creature itself to help the Gate.

With Minister of Inquiries and Stitcher’s Supplier I could see U/B Gift being an immediate contender in Standard. Stitcher’s Supplier is just a better version of Minister of Inquires since it gets value before and after it’s interacted with. Stitcher’s Supplier is also a Zombie and plays nicely with Liliana, Untouched by Death’s -3 ability by filling the graveyard with creatures to then later cast, or to be exiled by Graveyard Marshal. It’s worth noting that Stitcher’s Supplier dies to Goblin Chainwhirler, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing because if you put this card in your deck you likely want it to die fairly quickly to load up your graveyard even more. Stitcher’s Supplier is a card we’ll see a lot of in upcoming weeks of Standard, and I’m excited to see if it will make an immediate impact.

4) Demanding Dragon

I really like Demanding Dragon. It’s a 5/5 flyer that has an ability that resembles haste. Your opponent can either sacrifice a creature, or take 5 immediately, and with Chainwhirler around, there are far fewer tokens and meaningless creatures lying around to sacrifice. With Glorybringer, it’s a tough sell to put Demanding Dragon in your deck, but once Glorybringer rotates there’s going to be an opening in the 5-mana red slot, and Demanding Dragon might fit the bill to replace good old Glorybringer.

I can only imagine drawing these in multiples like Siege Rhino. 5 mana creatures usually have to have haste, or some built in value so that it doesn’t only trade down with a removal spell like Vraska’s Contempt.  It’s worth noting that Demanding Dragon outsizes creatures like Glorybringer and Rekindling Phoenix, and also avoids being destroyed by Chandra, Torch of Defiance. I think it has the potential to be the go-to red 5-drop once Glorybringer rotates, and potentially even sooner since it lines up well against other red cards.

3) Banefire

Banefire is going to make immediate impact on Standard. Right now we see people playing a fair amount of Fight with Fire because it both hedges against Lyra Dawnbringer and allows you to spend all of that mana you acquired from Settle the Wreckage. Banefire does the job Fight With Fire is trying to accomplish but in a much more efficient way. The thing I like most about Banefire is that it will force Teferi, Hero of Dominaria players to come with a game plan on how to win the game in a reasonable time frame, or inevitably die to a Banefire off the top. Banefire will be immediately inserted into mono-red sideboards, and may also find a spot in B/R Aggro sideboards in smaller numbers.

2) Graveyard Marshal

Graveyard Marshal is just a great 2-drop creature that scales well with the length of the game. As a 2-drop, it hits relatively hard, but can also take over the game on its own by churning out extra creatures. When used with Liliana, Untouched by Death and Stitcher’s Supplier, there will always be food for the Graveyard Marshal. I see Graveyard Marshal as a premium 2-drop in Zombies, but I also just think that it’s a great 2-drop in a deck with no Zombie synergies at all. This card resembles Scrapheap Scrounger to me and while 2 black mana is a much tougher sell than Scrapheap Scrounger, Graveyard Marshal can take over games in ways Scrapheap Scrounger never could by going wide on its own. Graveyard Marshal is going to see Standard play, and I think it might push Zombies back into the tier 1 category.

1) Nicol Bolas, the Ravager

Maybe I’m a little too high on Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, but it looks like one of the best reasons to buy the set to me. It’s a serviceable 4/4 flying body that gets a card of value as it enters the battlefield, but can also take over games on its own when flipped. Nicol Bolas is a perfect fit in a Grixis Energy style deck that wants to grind value while also applying pressure.

I don’t buy the argument that you can get blown out when you try to flip Nicol Bolas, the Ravager into Nicol Bolas, the Arisen, because if it’s still flying around and dealing damage when you get to 7 mana, you’re likely pretty safe from a removal spell if it’s attacking successfully. It’s really tough that late in a game to be able to just take 4 on the chin when you have a removal spell ready to go. I think Nicol Bolas will actually flip often enough to matter.

The only thing holding it back at all is its steep mana commitment. It plays well alongside Liliana Death’s Majesty, so I could even see sliding some red mana into a deck like U/B Midrange just to get Nicol Bolas, the Ravager into the mix. Simply minus Liliana Death’s Majesty to return Nicol Bolas, get another card out of the opponent’s hand, and you can do all of this with open mana, allowing you to immediately flip.

Nicol Bolas is the best card in Core 2019. I just hope that it finds a home and can compete with all of the other powerful cards that are still in Standard because I’m a bit worried that once we lose some dual lands and Aether Hub, it might be a little too difficult to make 3-color decks mana to work, but I’m sure we’ll find a way.

Overall I think Core 2019 is a pretty cool set, but it does seem to be on the weaker side after exploring Dominaria. Still, there are plenty of avenues to explore. Whether it’s an artifact deck with Tezzeret, Artifice Master and Sai, Master Thopterist, Zombies, or Dragons, Core 2019 has a few awesome archetypes to investigate and I’m excited to get started.

What are your favorite cards from Core 2019?