Core Set 2019 may be the weakest set for Standard in some time. But what we’re missing in obvious power cards may be made up for in a few niche and utility cards. Sticther’s Supplier, Viashino Pyromancer, Guttersnipe, Vine Mare, Hungering Hydra, Vivien Reid, Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants, Resplendent Angel, Bone Dragon, Pelakka Wurm, Shield Mare, Cleansing Nova, Death Baron, and a number of others could all see Standard play.
Not a ton of standouts or build-arounds, but a bunch of solid pieces that could power up some tier 2 strategies.
U/B Gift seems solid from the first couple of Leagues I’ve played. Stitcher’s Supplier is an absurdly powerful 1-drop for graveyard strategies and while there’s no Cabal Therapy, it dying is almost never a real issue. Meanwhile, it increases the strength of the Gate plan and doubles up your 1-drops, which was a key reason Bant Gift and U/G Gift were appealing in the first place. Now there’s far less of a reason to delve into those colors, though I think both are potentially still viable.
For U/B Gift you gain a couple of other angles of attack, including Kitesail Freebooter and either Hostage Taker or Ravenous Chupacabra. This gives you a lot more leeway to deal with commonly seen threats without taking it to an extreme like Meteor Golem, which is one of the only ways for the green builds to deal with creatures. Speaking of which, having that as a sideboard option is nice for longer games when you need to deal with an enchantment or opposing Gift.
Viashino Pyromancer was the card Wizards builds were missing. With that said, it looks like the mono-red build has been hybridized at this point, cutting cantrips and blue for Flame of Keld and enough Wizards to play Lightning Bolt (Wizard’s Lightning). I’m not against this, though I think the U/R version is now good enough to play even if you only run Adeliz and sideboard cards. It shouldn’t be overlooked how bad Ghitu Lavarunner is when you aren’t abusing tribal synergies.
Pyromancer also gives you another Shock, which pushes the deck toward a critical mass of red damage spells. Before you didn’t really have to respect the burn package until you fell to 3 or less. It was much more common to die to a haste creature or something removing a blocker. Now they can potentially chain together a lethal string of burn without that much luck involved. Remember I said they may not have to ban anything post-rotation if the early drops aren’t good? This isn’t a good look for that.
With that said, the metagame is getting enough new stuff and U/B Midrange is gaining enough traction to indicate that red won’t actually be all that bad for the next few months. For those who want to Keld out though, here’s the list:
In other exciting news, Grixis Midrange is back… again. As one may have expected with the printing of Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, Grixis now has a good drop at 4. Since previously the deck only had Vraska’s Contempt, Commit, or Glimmer of Genius, this is a good replacement. As usual, expect only 1-2 copies at first—the number will keep increasing as people realize just how strong Nicol Bolas is.
It still boggles the mind that the answer to “how can we make Hour of Promise viable?” may be Sifter Wurm. Welcome to Magic: the Gathering. Despite my disbelief, I can say that with the meta going a bit wider and slower in terms of viable decks it makes this type of strategy quite viable. Going over the top of decks like U/B Midrange and even Gift is quite doable with the right configuration and with actual outs to red (Pelakka Wurm seems like a fine sub or teammate to Sifter). Banefire also gives you a backup option to Carnage Tyrant against W/U Control, which makes that matchup seemingly unlosable.
What about my pet deck—Bant Gift? Well, it gained Hungering Hydra as another X-drop, which helps the Gate package and is another mana sink later in the game. While I’m unsure if playing the full four copies is correct, I’ve enjoyed having a pair and it plays so well with Gate that I’m not against a playset. It also has some fun synergies with Walking Ballista, where you can convert mana and damage into a bigger creature as necessary. Until the meta shakes out I’m still pretty high on Bant Gift, but admittedly if other variants end up better in the mirror then it may be time to shelve the deck.
Zombies could end up being a real thing thanks to all the help Core Set 2019 brought to the table. Between Death Baron and a “fixed” Cryptbreaker you now come close to the power level needed to play the deck successfully. While missing Dark Salvation is still a big blow, the deck has a legitimate curve and ignores Goblin Chainwhirler, something many tribal decks can’t say. It can also play a longer game just off the power of Liliana’s Mastery and normal black sideboard cards if that’s what you need.
Finally, there’s mono-green, which didn’t pick up much, but most importantly it got a great hedge against black decks in the form of Vine Mare. Not only does it dodge common removal spells for it, but black decks can’t even shove a deathtouch creature in the way a la Gonti or Gifted Aetherborn. Hexproof cards are always a risky proposition, especially at 4 mana, and we’ve already seen plenty of history of them doing well in Constructed. While it’s nowhere near the beast that Thrun, the Last Troll was, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the green deck take advantage of these.
Edit: So right as I was submitting this, the SCG results came out and sure enough, in 1st place of the Classic was Green Scrapheap Aggro with four Vine Mare main deck…
Green Scrapheap Aggro
So does Core Set 2019 move the needle? A bit! More than some of the core sets we’ve seen in the past, but nowhere near what Titans, Thragtusk, or flipwalkers brought us. Still, after really digging through the set I see a lot of cards that actually add to decks’ strategies instead of raising the sheer power level. That’s a nice change of pace and one I hope holds true until rotation.