It was easy to see the excitement and anticipation from new players and old before Dominaria was released, and now that it has been released, we can see the fanfare was well deserved in terms of the Limited environment, the impact on Standard, the incorporation into non-rotating formats, and the lore. M19, and core sets in general, do not typically spark the same anticipation. As Brian DeMars hinted in his recent article on core sets, there have been some powerful cards to first debut in core sets that have left a big impression on Constructed. Since we have not had a core set in two years, it’s good to remind ourselves of the power that can exist in these “basic” sets.
The Low Hanging Fruit
So the easy route here would be to mention cards from Alpha, since that was technically a core set and everything in it was new, but ChannelFireball probably wouldn’t pay me to write a Constructed set review of Alpha (although they did sponsor an Alpha limited set review, so maybe I have a shot…). But instead of discussing how cards printed in Alpha like Lord of Atlantis, Llanowar Elves, Lightning Bolt, Birds of Paradise, Disenchant, Dark Ritual, Wrath of God, and Counterspell still show their power in non-rotating formats today, I will be leaving them out of this list and focusing only on the rest of the core sets.
At the end of this article, your main takeaway will probably be that M11 is perhaps the most impactful core set so far on Constructed Magic. It is hard to imagine a Modern format without Primeval Titan, Pyretic Ritual, or Steel Overseer, or ignore the prevalence of Preordain in Legacy. Other cards that would redefine Modern without their existence from other core sets are Burning Inquiry from M10 and Gladecover Scout and Young Pyromancer from M14.
Key Role Players
While not format defining cards, the core sets have produced some key role playing cards to popular combo and tribal decks across Vintage, Legacy, and Modern. In Vintage we again have M11 to thank for bringing Inferno Titan and Sun Titan into the fray for Oath of Druids combo finishes, while Legacy occasionally features their cousin Grave Titan and the Zombie friends. M11 also gave those seeking to gain infinite life or deal infinite damage the powerful Viscera Seer, but M11 is not alone in the creating crucial combo components category either, and the other core sets have produced their own seemingly innocuous combo pieces until later printings revealed their true power. We saw this when M10 produced Hive Mind, which gave your opponent free spells to cast and win the game when they were unable to pay for a Pact, and M12 introduced Kite Shield, which players later used to draw their entire deck and throw grapes at their opponents. Magic Origins even contributed to Legacy Storm in Dark Petition, the deck’s first major addition since Innistrad.
We also see the common core set theme of tribal creatures providing key contributors to these Constructed tribal decks. M10 brought the powerful Elvish Archdruid into Modern Elves but had to wait until M14 gave him a new friend in Elvish Mystic to begin to bring hopes of playability to fans of the archetype, and then wait again even longer for Origins to present Shaman of the Pack and Dwynen’s Elite to fill out some of the remaining missing pieces so the deck could break through. The little green people were not the only tribe that gained a lot from core sets, as demonstrated when M13 printed Master of the Pearl Trident, and let’s not forget what is debatably the best creature in the best Modern tribal deck, Phantasmal Image.
Outside of combos and tribal, M15 and Origins each brought multiformat all-stars in Goblin Rabblemaster and Pia and Kiran Nalaar, respectively. Both took a while to break into older formats, but both are now staples of both Modern and Legacy.
Other Powerful Spells
The core set power level extends beyond the highest tier of Constructed Magic, and there are some cards that have been tier 1 at one time in the past but can still compete in the right exploitable meta. M11 again makes an appearance in this article, this time for its role in bringing Serra Ascendant into existence. If there is a market for infinite life combos that are not weak to graveyard hate, M14 brought us Archangel of Thune. With the release of M13 came Omniscience (and again appearing in M19), the Timmy players everywhere rejoiced, but Spike eventually got in on the action as well when the card began appearing in Legacy. For those less interested in big flashy spells, M12 provided Spirit Mantle and everyone’s favorite interactive Modern deck has put it to good use.
Probably the biggest benefit of regular core sets is the prevalence of strong answers that are unbound by fitting into the Magic story or set mechanics. The new set has a lot of narrow answers, but time will tell if the answers it contains are good enough to be included in the tight sideboards of non-rotating formats. There is precedent for these cards emerging from core sets, such as M11’s contributions of Leyline of Sanctity and Obstinate Baloth, and Magic Origin’s Orbs of Warding, which all punish burn players and discard effects. M12 again brought more burn hate, this time in the form of Timely Reinforcements, and again in M13 with Thragtusk. Finally, Wizards decided to print some cards that were good against things besides burn, and Xathrid Necromancer hit the scene in M14, even though it did not become a common sideboard card for Modern until the Humans against Jeskai Control matchup became commonplace late last year. In M15, Wizards of the Coast printed a card that mixed the core set tribal theme with a silver bullet, and Reclamation Sage quickly became a multi-format role player (and will again appear in M19). In Origins, Ghirapur Aether Grid was introduced and became used in Modern as hate counterplay for Affinity and Lantern Control.
What’s the Point?
The point is that powerful cards come from all kinds of sets, including—or perhaps especially—the core sets. So I’ll be taking a careful inspection of the full image gallery for obviously powerful cards, role players, silver bullets, much needed reprints, and maybe even a sleeper or two.
What cards from M19 are you expecting to break out in non-rotating formats? Let’s discuss in the comments below!