Previous Core Set 2019 Reviews
Let’s take a look at the grading scale, with the usual caveat that what I write about the card is more relevant, as there are many factors that aren’t reflected in a card’s grade.
5.0: The best of the best. (Siege-Gang Commander. Lyra Dawnbringer. Icy Manipulator.)
4.5: Incredible bomb, but not unbeatable. (Fight with Fire. In Bolas’s Clutches. Josu Vess, Lich Knight.)
4.0: Good rare or top-tier uncommon. (Cast Down. Slimefoot the Stowaway. Adeliz, the Cinder Wind.)
3.5: Top-tier common or solid uncommon. (Eviscerate. Shivan Fire. Cloudreader Sphinx.)
3.0: Good playable that basically always makes the cut. (Blink of an Eye. Llanowar Elves. Jousting Lance.)
2.5: Solid playable that rarely gets cut. (Windgrace Acolyte. Opt. Grow from the Ashes.)
2.0: Good filler, but sometimes gets cut. (Keldon Raider. Vodalian Arcanist. Dark Bargain.)
1.5: Filler. Gets cut about half the time. (Ghitu Lavarunner. Knight of New Benalia. Corrosive Ooze.)
1.0: Bad filler. Gets cut most of the time. (Cabal Evangel. Aesthir Glider. Arbor Armament.)
0.5: Very low-end playables and sideboard material. (Skirk Prospector. Unwind. Dub.)
0.0: Completely unplayable. (Shield of the Realm. Board the Weatherlight. One with Nothing.)
We never knew how good we had it with Supernatural Stamina, at least not until it was gone. Abnormal Endurance is an acceptable combat trick if you’re in the market for one, which not every deck will be. It does get bonus points if you have a bunch of creatures with ETB effects, so be on the lookout for that.
Limited: 1.0 // 3.0
Without support, this is quite bad. Divination isn’t Divination if you have to sacrifice a creature, even with an extra card attached. Once you’re in the sacrifice deck (usually red-black, but potentially white-black or blue-black with enough tokens), this becomes a lot more interesting. It’s still on the low end of payoffs, so don’t prioritize it.
I’d much rather be stomping terra than bog, but sometimes you have to play with the cards you’re dealt. These won’t be in high demand, and are a fine way to fill your top-end slots if you’ve got nothing else.
Someone is getting boned, that’s for sure. This thing is huge, flies, and can even come back later in the game. Granted, seven cards is a lot, but it’s pure upside, and you will eventually get there if the game drags on.
Child of Night
In the life gain deck, this is a premier 2-drop, and it’s more than fine outside of it as well. Extra life matters, and getting 2-4 points from this puts it ahead of most things you could cast on turn 2.
With four common Zombies and a common Skeleton (plus more at higher rarities), Death Baron isn’t bad card to gamble on. It won’t be a deck-defining card very often, but it will be worth playing, as it pays you off with as few as three other creatures it pumps. If deathtouch lets you trade up even once, this is a fine deal.
Demon of Catastrophes
This has some build-around elements to it, as you don’t want to just jam it in a 10-creature deck without sacrifice fodder, but the payoff here is big enough that it’s worth taking early and trying to enable. It’s not a catastrophe if you end up playing it in a deck with only one or two good outlets, as long as you have cheap creatures to eat. Note that if your opponent has too many ways to remove this, consider siding it out.
Between the minor Zombie theme and this just being a 1 mana 2/2, most decks will run this. It’s not an exciting early pick, but it’ll get the job done.
I’ve generally been happy with this card, even without synergies, and once you add in the sacrifice theme this becomes quite appealing. Some black-red decks will slam this without hesitation, and it’s a fine blocker in blue-black control, making it fairly well-rounded.
I’ve never run into a format where maindecking Duress is right, and I doubt M19 will change that. It is a great sideboard card, so keep an eye on how spell-dense the opponent is.
Epicure of Blood
This isn’t exactly a big payoff for life gain, as it will ping the opponent for 1-2 damage a turn at best. Still, it’s large enough to stall the ground, and does eventually kill them, so it might cure your ills if you’re looking for a finisher.
Getting one of their cards, pinging them for 2, and leaving a 1/3 flyer on the board is a lot of action for 4 mana, even if you never trigger the second ability again. Fell Specter is not a build-around, just a solid playable that you aren’t likely to cut.
It’s really hard to imagine getting a substantial advantage out of this. The way to “abuse” it is to cast it when the rounding up clause hurts the opponent, as it makes them sacrifice two creatures if they have three, and the like. Still, paying 5 mana for a symmetrical effect is something I’m very suspicious of, and this is a card I’ll have to tinker with before I’m convinced.
I need no convincing on Gravedigger—it’s an easy 2-for-1 that buys back a good card and pairs nicely with bounce and sacrifice cards alike. It’s even splashable for good measure.
This combines an aggressive stat line with a good late game ability, which is a desirable mix. You don’t have to do anything special besides play creatures to make this great, and every deck will want it.
Hired Blade will ambush most things that cross his path, but at a price. He’s not walking away from most of those encounters, which doesn’t make for a lot of repeat customers. This is a decent creature with an ability that will let it trade up or get free damage in, which makes it a passable addition to most decks.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call this horrorable, but that’s only because I’ve run that one so many times. I will say that playing it isn’t sick and more sickly than anything else. This is just too small to make an impact, and definitely not for 4 mana.
I’d stick to killing Eldrazi and Inkmoth Nexus in Modern, or whatever Constructed applications this may end up having.
The payoff here is not worth the risk or the effort, as you’re jumping through a lot of hoops to maybe have this replace itself.
Isareth the Awakener
A 3/3 deathtouch for 3 that puts you up a card each time it attacks is something I’m definitely in for. At the very least, Isareth is a 2-for-1, and often will be much better.
The extra 3 life matters a lot here. Not only does it enable life gain synergies, it keeps you alive after you spend 5 mana killing a creature. Unconditional removal with an upside gets a 3.5
in my book, even if just barely.
Liliana, Untouched by Death
Limited: 1.0 // 2.5
I was all ready to give Liliana a high grade, but then I read her. If your deck isn’t full of Zombies, she does nothing. None of her abilities work without Zombies, and that’s not something you can rely on in this format. If you end up with 5+ Zombies in your deck, she will be solid, but this isn’t a planeswalker you should rejoice about opening.
The power of this is mostly based on the second clause, as you can pick up 5-6 Demons in an average Draft.
By that, I mean that you should treat this as a painful way to draw cards, and try and use it in an aggressive deck or one that has a lot of life gain. It’s quite powerful if you can afford it, which is on-theme for a Contract from Below.
If you’ve got a lot of creatures, this is a fine way to turn a land into two spells in the late game. I value the first one of these pretty highly, and then they get subsequently less valuable.
I never feel too bad about putting this in my deck, and sometimes it really overperforms. It’s also great in Sealed, and a reason to keep excess lands in your hand if you don’t need to play them.
Killing anything for 3 mana is what we in the card reviewing business call a good deal.
Limited: 1.5 // 3.0
Worst case, this is a deal 1 gain 1, which is a decent sideboard option against X/1s. In a deck built to maximize this, it can kill real creatures for just 1 mana, which can be a nightmare to play against. Once you have 3+ sources of life gain, this becomes a good addition to your deck.
Open the Graves
It looks very difficult to win a long game against an opponent who opens this, and as long as they have enough creatures in their deck, you will have trouble running them out of cards.
You need a lot of artifacts and a lot of Swamps for this to make the cut, so I prefer to bask in the sweet Lich flavor and not worry too much about how playable it is.
Horsey Chainwhirler is a great post-combat play after your opponent blocks your 2/2s with 3/3s, and can clean up 1 toughness creatures like nobody’s business. Plus, every now and then it’ll sneak past some white creatures.
Limited: 1.5 // 3.0
In the dedicated sacrifice deck, this is a great finisher. Outside of that, its appetite is not worth satiating, as what you pay is not worth what you get. This starts a little small and takes a lot of food before it becomes great.
It’s not a disaster if you have to play this without synergies, as it blocks ground creatures and can be discarded or milled for profit. When you do have combos, it’s awesome, and overall is a card I don’t mind taking early.
Rise from the Grave
This is one way to make a Zombie, I suppose. I never prioritize this, but it can be a decent 5-drop in a deck with great creatures or great removal (ideally both).
Much like in most videogames, Skeleton Archer isn’t the weakest minion but it isn’t the best either. It’s annoying to face and definitely has its high points, while also being quite killable. I like this card, and would run as many as I could get.
Skymarch Bloodletter loses a little ground from Ixalan, given that Vampires are no longer a supported tribe and the format is a little slower, but it’s still a solid playable that will make your deck every time. Plus, the life gain deck is a thing, so it’s not all bad news.
I’d have to have a lot of life gain synergies before I took a bite of this apple, and I suspect it won’t happen very often (if at all).
If the creature type Zombie matters a ton and you have graveyard synergies, stock up. Otherwise, this should be avoided at all costs.
You can snap off 3 toughness creatures or use this in combat to kill larger things, both of which are desirable effects for 4 mana. This is good, clean removal, which is always something you’re choked on in Limited.
Do they eat double the brains of a normal Zombie or just each get half as much? Either way, this is a good aggressive card and a playable Zombie, both of which you may be interested in.
This looks like a card people are going to want to play, but I’m not giving up that easily—unless your opponent has a lot of 2 power creatures and you have life gain synergies, this shouldn’t be in your deck. It just doesn’t do enough to justify the card slot.
A 3/4 flyer that drains for 3, on the other hand, is something I’m definitely in for. This is an evasive threat with a strong ETB ability, which is a recipe for success in Limited.
This mostly gets there on curve considerations, but it may also get there on creature type from time to time. Either way, don’t be worried if this makes the cut.
Top 5 Black Commons
Two removal spells, followed by two creatures with good stats and minor ETB effects, followed by a double Raise Dead. Yep, that sounds like black to me. I don’t see the removal spells moving from the top slots, but the last three cards could swap places easily, depending on how the format pans out and what your deck wants. Black doesn’t seem particularly aggressive, though there’s a Zombie deck lurking in there somewhere.