Core Set 2019 Is Having a Much Bigger Impact on Standard than We Expected

When M19 was first spoiled, it didn’t seem like a particularly impactful set to me—some cards were interesting, but nothing was good enough to make me excited about it. As the format has evolved, though, more and more M19 cards have started showing up and shaping certain archetypes.

In today’s article, I’m going to talk about the archetypes that gained considerably from M19 (or that didn’t exist before and now do). I’m not going to focus on decks like U/W God-Pharaoh’s Gift, B/R Aggro, and U/W Control because those didn’t change much with M19, but, just for the record, I think those are all good decks.

Nicol Bolas and Grixis

Gobern, 1st place at MTGO PTQ

Nicol Bolas is certainly a powerful card, but the big question is whether it’s worth splashing a third color for. I think that it is. A 4/4 flyer is a big enough card that it’s threatening on both offense and defense, and if you flip it, you usually win the game. The discard ability is the best part of the card, since this is a deck that doesn’t blank their removal like some control builds do, so they won’t just have a fist full of Magma Sprays and Fatal Pushes that they can get rid of. They’ll have to either discard a land or a card that is actually good.

The cool aspect of the discard ability in this deck is that you can play it multiple times, which is really taxing. The deck runs four Nicol Bolas, and it’s sort of a must-answer threat because of its size and the flip potential, so they have to kill it, which means you can play another one and snag another card. Then, you also have Liliana, Death’s Majesty and The Scarab God to rebuy them. I especially like reanimating Nicol Bolas on their draw step with The Scarab God to really put the nail in the coffin.

I think this build of Grixis is very good. I would add a little more red—if I’m already playing Nicol Bolas, then I want to play Abrade as well. I think Abrade is pretty good right now because God-Pharaoh’s Gift is very popular, and Paradoxical Outcome is also a popular deck. I’d like to do -1 Essence Scatter, +1 Abrade in the main deck. Yeah, there aren’t a lot of red sources (only 10 in this list, with four being Hubs), but I think that’s fine, or you could cut a Swamp for another B/R dual of some sort.

I also don’t like The Eldest Reborn in the sideboard very much. It’s fantastic in some spots, but the deck is already full of 5-mana cards, and the fact that people play Liliana in these midrange decks more and more means the reanimate clause might sometimes not even work. For example, I had a game where both my opponent and I had Nicol Bolas. He Vraska’s Contempted mine, so it was exiled, and then I played The Eldest Reborn. He followed that up with Liliana, Death’s Majesty and, by the time The Eldest Reborn triggered, there was nothing to return. Obviously it’s anecdotal and won’t always play out like this, but the fact that it’s possible for both players to play a big creature, for both of those creatures to die, and for neither to be returned, is somewhat of a warning sign.

Mono-Green with Thorn Lieutenant and Vine Mare

WHITNEN, 2nd place at the MTGO PTQ

People have mostly been split on Thorn Lieutenant and Vine Mare. Some people play four Lieutenants, some play zero. Almost everyone has Vine Mare, but some play it main deck.

Thorn Lieutenant is an interesting card because it’s not exactly good, but it plays two roles. The first is that it’s a blocker that’s hard for red to get through. It works on spells and abilities, so they can’t just Earthshaker Khenra you, for example. It also doesn’t die to Goblin Chainwhirler, unlike Merfolk Branchwalker.

The second role is that it’s a somewhat resilient threat in a deck with Rhonas. Obviously they can still kill it, but you get a creature in the process, which makes it harder to execute the “clear your board of all creatures” plan. A 1/1 isn’t much, but you have Hashep Oasis, Blossoming Defense and Rhonas, the Indomitable in your deck, so sometimes all you need is a body.

Overall, I don’t think this card is fantastic, but it’s a 2-mana card, and it’s not like the alternative is good—I don’t think Merfolk Branchwalker is good. So, I’d play Lieutenant.

Vine Mare is extremely powerful in some spots, and horrible in others. It shines against U/B/Grixis midrange decks since it can’t be killed or blocked—even creatures reanimated by Liliana or The Scarab God are black, as well as an eternalized Champion of Wits. It’s also randomly good versus Zombies and some control decks. It’s not good in the mirror and versus the faster versions of red.

Whether you want Vine Mare main deck or not depends on what kind of metagame you expect. I also don’t think it has to be a 0 or 4 thing, like we’ve seen. There’s nothing wrong with playing one or two main deck Vine Mares. Regardless of what you choose to do, I think you should have at least three between the main deck and sideboard, likely four.

Sai, Master Thopterist in Paradoxical Outcome

CANEPIS16, 5-0

Paradoxical Outcome was kind of a meme deck a couple of months ago, but it relied too much on just getting the right matchups. Now, with the printing of Sai, Master Thopterist and the reemergence of midrange decks as viable archetypes, this deck has become more popular again.

If you haven’t seen it in action, the way it wins is by playing a bunch of cheap artifacts, then returning them to your hand with Paradoxical Outcome or Baral’s Expertise, playing an Aetherflux Reservoir, and then replaying the artifacts to kill them.

At first glance, it might look like Sai isn’t actually needed since it’s not part of the combo in any way, but it does a number of things for the deck, from providing plenty of artifacts for Inspiring Statuary to blocking to pressuring control decks and planeswalkers.

Sai is also important for your post-board plan. Combo decks like this are often vulnerable to sideboard hate in some capacity (and not necessarily dedicated hate, but also generic effects like discard or counterspells), and this deck gets around that nicely by having Karn, Scion of Urza, Tezzeret, Artifice Master, and often The Antiquities War.

So, while this may look like just a fun deck, I assure you it’s very real.

If I were to make changes to it, I’d cut The Antiquities War. I don’t think you need it game 1 and it doesn’t help you in the situations where you’re losing. It’s a much better game 2 card where you can’t rely on resolving and sticking all of your pieces. That said, it does dig for artifacts, so the cost of having it isn’t big.

Zombies with Graveyard Marshal and Death Baron

Gereffi, 5-0

Ocelot823, 5-0

Zombies got two very important new tools: Graveyard Marshal and Death Baron. Graveyard Marshal is just a very good creature that synergizes very well with all the pump you have, and Death Baron is deceptively powerful, especially against green decks where it makes all of your Zombies almost impossible to block.

The great thing about Zombies is that it’s a fast, aggressive deck with a tribal component that is also resilient. So if your opponent doesn’t interact with you, you’re going to flood the board with creatures and lords and you’ll get exponentially more powerful every turn, like Merfolk. If they do interact with you, however, then you can still win, which is unusual for decks like this. Cards like Dread Wanderer, Scrapheap Scrounger, Liliana, Untouched by Death, Graveyard Marshal, and Liliana’s Mastery all help you beat sweepers and removal, which makes this deck pretty powerful.

There are currently two versions of Zombies: B/W and Mono-Black. The main difference is usually that Mono-Black plays Scrapheap Scrounger, whereas B/W plays Wayward Servant. Personally, I like Mono-Black more, because I think Scrounger is very good, you have enough Zombies as it is, and the white is actually not free. When I was playing the white version, I had trouble with Concealed Courtyard in the late game, for example (nothing worse than having two Mastery in hand and then drawing Courtyard as your fifth land), and you can also randomly draw Plains and not be able to cast your spells.

Gate to the Afterlife Decks with Stitcher’s Supplier

VCTLA, 5-0

KaaaS2306, 5-0

Gate to the Afterlife decks existed before, but Stitcher’s Supplier has breathed new life in them. For 1 mana, you throw three cards into the graveyard immediately, and then four more once it dies (one of which is guaranteed to be a creature). That’s a decent amount of milling for a 1-mana card, and you often end up shooting your own Stitcher’s Supplier with Walking Ballista once you have a Gate to the Afterlife in play.

That said, I think the extra milling isn’t really going to break this archetype wide open. I never felt like the big problem was getting six creatures in the graveyard. Yes, that was an issue sometimes, but the bigger issue was them just dealing with your Gates, hating your graveyard, or your Gates simply being too slow, and Stitcher’s Supplier doesn’t solve that (it fills your graveyard quickly if you can block with it, but you’re still going to be activating Gate on turn 4 at the earliest, and if they get rid of the first one then you’re in trouble). So I would play Stitcher’s Supplier in this deck if I played it, but I wouldn’t play this deck just because of Stitcher’s Supplier. I’m also a fan of one main deck copy of The Scarab God over the fourth Angel of Invention.

The G/B version that has been popping up is very interesting. It’s a much worse Gate deck since it doesn’t have Angel of Invention, Champion of Wits, Ipnu Rivulet, and Minister of Inquiries, but it’s a much better non-Gate deck. So you’re making some sacrifices in the Gate department to make sure that you’re a better deck if you don’t draw Gate or if they get rid of it, which I think is a good direction.

The one thing I’d do is add Winding Constrictor to this deck. I get that it doesn’t work well with Gate, but the deck has four Walking Ballista, four Verdurous Gearhulk, and twelve explore creatures—that’s more synergy than the Snake deck has! I think you can even cut some of the explore cards and Winding Constrictor will still be amazing. It also works very well with Wildgrowth Walkers from the sideboard, for whatever that’s worth.

Overall, M19 seems to be more important than I originally predicted. There are more decks that benefit from it, of course, but I think these five are the biggest winners with the new cards.

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