While Core Set 2019 isn’t a format for Pro Tour 25, I’ve spent a fair amount of time playing it to prepare for the last two Grand Prix before the Pro Tour, as they’re the last two that can help me reach the World Championships. With GP Minneapolis coming up this weekend, I’ll write one last article about my experiences with Core Set 2019 Limited. Hopefully you’ll learn a little bit about a card you’ve been struggling to evaluate.
I had my initial impressions of cards based on my years of Limited experience, and the following are cards that surprised me one way or another. Some of them are overrated or underrated still, and some are better or worse than I thought they’d be. I’ll often be comparing these cards to the common removal, in which case, I mean cards like Luminous Bonds, Electrify, Liliana’s Caress, and Rabid Bite.
Chromium, the Mutable
First Impression: Bomb mythic, nearly unbeatable.
Chromium, the Mutable is still a bomb rare, but I’ve run into a similar play pattern with and against Chromium that I didn’t see on my first reading. Flashing in Chromium to block a Snapping Drake is an excellent play, but when successful you leave your Chromium vulnerable that turn. The Snapping Drake will deal damage to the Chromium and then if you discard a card later in the turn to activate its ability, it will die from the damage already on it. This means that it’s as good of a catchup card as I thought it was going to be initially, and it’s important to be aware of this on both sides of the card. You can attack into a suspected Chromium and cast a removal spell on it if the exchange is good for you, but also, be aware of exposing your own Chromium in these spots.
Conclusion: Worse than I thought, but still a bomb.
First Impression: Too slow for a random effect or no effect on the game.
I glossed over Chaos Wand in the spoiler and didn’t really consider it for Limited play. Generally, these artifacts with a lot of text don’t play well in Limited and occupy some other design space. Chaos Wand does play well, especially in Sealed.
My first experience facing down the card was that it was just a 3-mana Predator, Flagship. Everyone plays a lot of removal with some card draw mixed in, and combat tricks are played in smaller numbers. Sealed is also much slower in Core Set 2019, which means that missing once isn’t a huge deal. Chaos Wand is simply one of the best cards to open in your Sealed deck and you should always play it. It’s colorless and has a huge impact on the game. Sure, there will be matchups you may want to side it out, but more often than not it will dominate.
In Draft, however, Chaos Wand is high variance and matchup dependent. After losing badly to a Chaos Wand in Sealed I thought for sure that it was a bomb first pick. The problem is that decks are more focused in Draft, like R/W Go-Wide and G/W Auras. The Draft format is also faster, so missing once can cost you a game. You’ll end up hitting an Inspired Charge when you need a removal spell against an aggro deck, or occasionally hit nothing at all and the tempo loss can be devastating.
Other times, however, Chaos Wand is still unbeatable in Draft. I once drafted what I considered the perfect U/R Control deck and played a mirror I thought I surely couldn’t lose. The games were slow, and my card quality was so high that I was sure I had deck advantage. That was, of course, until my opponent played a turn-3 Chaos Wand on the play, and I was essentially drawing dead from that point on. That alone made me respect cards like Smelt a little bit more as sideboard options for decks like these.
Conclusion: Bomb in Sealed deck, matchup dependent and high variance in Booster Draft.
First Impression: Bomb—definitely better than every uncommon.
Leonin Warleader is great, but not quite the bomb rare I thought it would be. Leonin Warleader has been compared over and over to Hero of Bladehold, but that comparison is off. It’s easier to block the tokens from Warleader effectively since they only have 1 power, and I’ve found it difficult to create profitable attacks with Leonin Warleader. It’s easy to throw a 3/3 and a 2/2 on it while having another 2/2 to eat one of the lifelinkers. I rarely play Mighty Leap or Aegis of the Heavens and white doesn’t have instant speed removal to punish this kind of block. This makes the card less like Hero of Bladehold and more like Baloth Gorger.
Conclusion: Still a great rare, but overrated and comparable to the best uncommons.
First Impression: Unplayable/Bad
I looked at Metamorphic Alteration and assumed that it was unplayable. Much like a normal Aura, spending a card to improve a creature at sorcery speed is usually a spot you don’t want to be in. But I actually think that Auras are better in this format than usual, so turning your Thopter token into a Colossal Dreadmaw for a card isn’t that bad of an exchange. This alone wouldn’t make the card good, though, as that’s a best-case scenario. What makes this card good is its ability to transform an opponent’s creature.
The first time my opponent cast this they turned my Ghastbark Twins into a Thopter token. I initially overlooked the ability of the card to essentially turn into removal, and this is a primary function of it for Limited. I like Alteration in both Sealed and Draft, and would basically never cut it from a blue deck.
Conclusion: Very versatile. Always play it, though it’s worse than common removal since it requires setup.
First Impression: 2/5 for 3 mana. I’ll play it ten times and its ability will come up once or twice.
Runic Armasaur on the spoiler looked like a sweet looking Modern card. Draw a card every time your opponent fetches, can block Tarmogoyf, Hollow One, Tasigur, and doesn’t die to Bolt, or even Fatal Push if they don’t let you draw a card.
In Limited, however, there are no lands that have activated abilities. But interestingly enough, there are actually enough for the ability to be relevant. Vampire Neonate, Ghirapur Guide, Gargoyle Sentinel, Ravenous Harpy, and Dryad Greenseeker are some of the cards I commonly play against, and Runic Armasaur’s ability becomes very relevant.
Conclusion: The ability is relevant more often than I thought, and the 2/5 body is great. Good card, but not better than the best uncommons or commons.
Sai, Master Thopterist
First Impression: Potentially a bomb, definitely first-pickable.
When Sai, Master Thopterist was spoiled my obvious first thought was, “wow that looks like it could be great in Modern Affinity!” While that may or may not pan out, I thought it would definitely be a good Limited card. Generally, when we have this artifact subtheme, there’s enough support artifacts to make cards like this powerful.
This time around, I’ve found that there are not enough role-playing artifacts to make Sai, Master Thopterist a bomb by any stretch. Both the quality and quantity of artifacts in Core Set 2019 are below expectations for Sai, Master Thopterist, so a card I thought was a quality first pick is merely an OK card in blue decks that have a pretty low ceiling. I’ve also had similar experiences with Scholar of Stars for the same reasons. I thought I’d be taking Scholar of Stars early and drafting around them, but that simply hasn’t been the case.
Conclusion: Worse than I thought—not a high pick in pack 1.
First Impression: Probably on par with common removal since it doesn’t eliminate a creature from the battlefield.
The inspiration for writing this article was actually Transmogrifying Wand. After a tough Day 1 in GP Sacramento, I failed to make Day 2. With not much else going on I took the time to watch a fellow member of Team CFB, Ben Stark. Watching his Draft, I saw both his picks, and the player feeding him, and I was utterly shocked to see that he was passed a Transmogrifying Wand. Later, I learned that a teammate of mine who was inexperienced in this format also passed Transmogrifying Wand because they didn’t know how good it was.
It is a weird card with a lot of text, and it doesn’t actually translate into additional resources. You don’t kill creatures—you can merely improve your bad ones into 2/4s or turn their better creatures into 2/4s. In this format, a 2/4 creature has a lot of difficulty punching through the abundance of 3-toughness creatures, or simply trades for an otherwise irrelevant 2/2 in a double-block. Getting this effect three times in one card, it turns out, is just absurd. It’s easy to create a board stall, and being on the other side of the Wand with 6-mana creatures in your hand is a terrifying experience. The fact that this card is colorless makes it one of the cards I want to see most in a pack.
Conclusion: This is a bomb.
First Impression: More work than the payoff is worth but a fine 2-drop—nothing special.
Ajani’s Pridemate is quite possibly better than it has ever been. There’s so much incidental life gain attached to cards like Liliana’s Caress and Skymarch Bloodletter, but also a few repeatable life gain cards like Fountain of Renewal and Vampire Neonate. This left me floored by how effective this card could be.
That said, I think Ajani’s Pridemate has been vastly overrated. I see people excited and happy to slam first-pick this card, and while it can get big over the course of a game, I haven’t found myself in tough spots against it very often. It’s still a mediocre late-game topdeck and requires other cards to get completely out of hand. I’m happy to pick Ajani’s Pridemate up for my B/W Life Gain deck, but I don’t move into the archetype for the card.
Conclusion: Better than I thought initially, but I still prefer common removal.
First Impression: Solid 2-drop, maybe on par with common removal.
It took me exactly three turns of having Dryad Greenseeker in play to be floored at how good it is. I’ve compared it to Courser of Kruphix before. I even think this card has potential Standard implications. There comes a point later in the game where drawing an extra land is like not drawing a card. Drawing a land off the top of your deck means that you’re not drawing a land for your draw step, so it’s like scrying a land to the bottom of your deck and increasing your odds of drawing a spell every turn.
Dryad Greenseeker is also tricky to use correctly. Let’s say that you’ve kept a two-land hand with Dryad Greenseeker, and you really want to make your third land drop. You have the option to use Dryad Greenseeker in your upkeep, before you draw. If your top card is a land, great, you did it! Now continue drawing for the turn.
But what if it isn’t a land? You’re now going to miss your third land drop and wait a full turn. What if your second card was a land, though? Well, if you’d waited, you’d be able to find that land, play it, and then have two more shots at seeing a land next turn. If your top card was a land and you drew it, then you lost value, right? That’s fine—you’re still hitting land drops and still have a bunch of spells.
Let’s look at it when you’re flooded. I’ve kept a five-land hand with Dryad Greenseeker. It’s my turn 3 upkeep. I decide to draw my card, and it’s another land. Now I don’t have a spell to play and can only tap the Greenseeker and find another land off it, which is no use. But if I use it in my upkeep, my top card is a land, I get to take it off the top of my deck and have another chance at drawing a spell. If it’s a spell? Great, I’ve drawn action.
In some cases, you may want to block with Dryad Greenseeker, in which case you should start using it in your opponent’s end step. But other than that, the basic rule is, if you need a land, draw for your turn first. If you want to draw a spell, activate it before you draw.
Conclusion: Much better than I thought, and what I consider the best uncommon in the set.
First Impression: First pickable uncommon, and better than common removal.
Volley Veteran has an okay supporting cast with Goblin Instigator and Boggart Brute at common, but even when you get 2 damage out of the ability, it’s still only pretty good. The creatures that seem to matter in this format mostly have a lot of toughness. Killing a Snapping Drake with this on turn 4 is great, but that doesn’t happen close to often enough to take this over a premium common removal spell. While I’m always happy to pick up Volley Veteran pick 4 or 5, it hasn’t played out as well as I thought it might.
Conclusion: Not a great first pick, and worse than the better common removal.
First Impression: Two bodies on one card—probably the best blue common.
After playing with and against Aviation Pioneer, I think that it’s a fine card, but I’m not looking to take them highly. 1-toughness creatures are liabilities in this format, and Aviation Pioneer is part of the reason for that as it’s great against them but it’s also weak to cards like Skeleton Archer. Having a way to stifle aggressive decks playing some amount of X/1s is great, and I’ll probably always include this card in my deck—it’s just not a high priority. It gets better with cards like Switcharoo, and of course it’s a fine card for artifact synergies like Scholar of Stars, but in general it’s probably worse than Skyscanner.
Conclusion: Not a card I consider a high pick, and not the best blue common.
First Impression: Unplayable outside of extreme circumstances.
Rustwing Falcon doesn’t look like much. It’s a 1-power flyer for 1 mana, and we’ve seen this kind of card a bunch of times. The 2nd toughness on the card, however, is incredibly relevant. With cards like Plague Mare, Skeleton Archer, and even Volley Veteran around, Rustwing Falcon demands a real answer. Rustwing Falcon also fights through Thopter tokens and Skyscanner. With Knight’s Pledge, Oakenform, Infernal Scarring, and Marauder’s Axe all at common, I’ve had quite a few successful decks now that turn Rustwing Falcon into its own archetype much like team MTG Mintcard did with Slither Blade in Amonkhet.
Conclusion: Definitely playable, and you can draft around them with Auras/Equipment.
First Impression: Replacement level—playable but not exciting.
Bristling Boar and other big creatures have actually all been fairly impressive. Bristling Boar can become quite an issue to block in this format, as not many creatures have 3 power, and it can’t be double-blocked by a loose token and a 2/2. Bristling Boar also triggers the “4-power matters” cards, like Colossal Majesty. While I don’t take Bristling Boar highly, I’m still happy to pick them up, and very rarely cut them from my decks.
Conclusion: Not a first pick, but plays out better than it looks, and is better than replacement level.
First Impression: Good common removal, and a solid first pick.
Shock has been extremely disappointing to me in this format. It’s still a card I wouldn’t cut from my deck outside of extreme circumstances, but it doesn’t seem to kill many of the relevant threats in this format. Sure, killing an x/2 flying creature like Snapping Drake or Aven Wind Mage is a huge advantage, but trading it for a 2-drop that is likely going to get bricked anyways isn’t exactly great.
Conclusion: Happy to play it, unhappy to first pick it.
First Impression: Cute life gain card, but I won’t play it outside of that.
Vampire Neonate is intended to be a constant trigger for the B/W Life Gain strategy, but it’s more than that. With so many 2-power ground creatures in this format, Vampire Neonate can stave off attacks throughout the game while slowly draining your opponent 1 point at a time. In a control deck, Vampire Neonate can help you stabilize, then bring you back to a comfortable life total while having a relevant sized body for blocking. There’s a reason we don’t see more powerful repeatable effects at common anymore, and while this doesn’t seem like much, it still does break that rule.
Conclusion: Better than I thought outside of synergies, and good as a synergy card. Usually makes the cut in a variety of different decks.
These were the cards that tricked me early on in Core Set 2019. I misevaluated them, and after gaining more experience in the format, I came to a better understanding of their role. Were there any cards you had trouble evaluating at first? Any cards you’re still having trouble evaluating? Let me know in the comments!