The Core Set 2020 Prerelease Primer

Hello! Normally, I start the prerelease primer by evaluating all the new mechanics. Core Set 2020 doesn’t have any, but it does have some cycles that are probably worth talking about, so we’ll start there before moving into some of the finer points of the format.

Core Set 2020 Prerelease Primer

The Leylines

Leyline of SanctityLeyline of AnticipationLeyline of the VoidLeyline of CombustionLeyline of Abundance

All 5 Leylines are bad and shouldn’t be played under any circumstances.

The Color Hosers

FryAether GustVeil of SummerDevout DecreeNoxious Grasp

Each color has one color hoser, and, though they are all incredibly strong cards (especially in Constructed), I don’t believe you should maindeck any as often they don’t do anything. The exception to this is if you have a couple of copies of Scuttlemutt, at which point I would maindeck them because you can draw your “combo” to make them relevant no matter what (and I would similarly maindeck them if I had a lot of Looting effects).

You should always keep the color hosers in mind when you’re sideboarding, because against the right deck they can be the best card in your deck by a decent margin. As an example, against a G/W deck, Noxious Grasp is significantly better than Murder. Even if your opponent is only one of the colors, these cards are going to be good and I would bring them in in the dark. The big exception here is Veil of Summer, which is merely okay.

It’s very easy to see when you should sideboard these cards in, but I think some of them (particularly Silverback Shaman, Devout Decree and Fry) are strong enough that they should factor more in your considerations. All are splashable, so maybe you should consider adding an extra color post-board. More than that, they can make you change the colors in your deck entirely.

For example, imagine you have a U/R deck that is good, but not overwhelmingly better than your other colors. Your black is fine, but worse than both blue and red. However, if you had, say, an extra two copies of Murder, then your black would just be better than your blue. When you play against a G/W deck, if you have two Noxious Grasps in your sideboard, you have two cards that are just better than Murder. At this point, you should probably change colors.

The Protection Creatures

Apostle of Purifying LightShifting CeratopsUnchained BerserkerCerulean DrakeBlightbeetle

The protection creatures are a different matter, because they’ll always do something regardless of what your opponent has, and then they randomly have great abilities if you are playing against the right color.

Shifting Ceratops is obviously incredible, and I would always maindeck it. I would also always maindeck Apostle of Purifying Light, since 2/1 for 2 is passable and I believe black is a very good color in this set and draws people towards it in Sealed because of the removal spells, so your opponent is more likely to be playing black than normal. I also can’t imagine the red deck that would not want Unchained Berserker.

Cerulean Drake is a bit less straightforward. I wouldn’t be opposed to maindecking it, but some decks just really don’t want a 1/1 flier for 2, and in those I would leave it in the sideboard. If you have flying synergies (there are a couple in this set) or if you really want a two-drop, then I would maindeck it.

Blightbeetle is the worst of the bunch by a fair bit. Protection from green is usually good to stop monsters, but in this set the best green monster has trample (Silverback Shaman), and there’s also Thicket Crasher, so it’s not as good as it would normally be. If your opponent has Vorstclaws, though, then it can be good. As a rule, I would not maindeck this card.

The Lands

In a two-color deck, you should always play Cryptic Caves. You should also always play a Temple that is at least one of your colors. You should never play the life gain lands just for the life gain (if you are only one of the colors) unless you have multiple lifegain payoffs like Bloodthirsty Aerialist. You should never play Field of the Dead, and Lotus Field is bad unless you have specific cards you’re worried about being able to cast (such as the Cavaliers).

The Removal

At common, black has Bone Splinters, Murder and Agonizing Syphon. Blue has Unsummon and Sleep Paralysis, white has Pacifism and Aerial Assault, green has Rabid Bite and red has Shock, Reduce to Ashes and Chandra’s Outrage. This may seem like a lot, but in practice it hasn’t felt like it in my Sealed games, because a lot of the removal is incredibly situational. Not only that, there are also a lot of pesky creatures (small fliers, Audacious Thief, deathtouch creatures) that will feel like they demand a removal spell early on, which leaves you without an answer for anything big that comes.

My advice is to be frugal with your removal. There are some big bombs in the set (as well as just big creatures like Air Elemental) and you need a way to answer them or you will simply lose, so conserve your Murders and Pacifisms for cards like these and use your life total as a resource early in the game.

The Mana Fixing

There isn’t a whole lot of fixing in the set. Green has Gift of Paradise, but past that we’re looking at Evolving Wilds, tapped lands, or Prismite. It’s rare to have a “5-color green” style of deck, and in my experience most decks are straight up two-colors (the addition of a very good colorless land in Cryptic Caves helps this as well). If you have fixing, you can of course splash a color, but don’t feel like you have to and don’t force it if the mana doesn’t lend itself to it. If you do splash, prioritize removal spells like Pacifism.

Another thing to consider is that this is not an expensive format, and there aren’t a lot of mana sinks. There are tons of playable 5-drops and some good 6-drops, but once you reach the late game, you really don’t want to be drawing lands. Multicolored decks usually run a higher land count than two-color decks (and here I’m counting cards like Gift of Paradise), so this problem is exacerbated for them.

The Fliers

Core Set 2020 has a higher-than-usual concentration of fliers. Even colors that normally don’t have access to cheap fliers (such as red) have them in this set (Goblin Bird-Grabber and Daggersail Aeronaut, for example), and there is even a fliers subtheme that rewards you for having them.

Originally, I thought this would mean the games would develop into a race, but that wasn’t necessarily what happened. Some games were races, of course, but it wasn’t like people were just blindly swinging past each other, because as it turns out if everyone has fliers then they just become better blockers as well. I think in practical terms this means that both green spiders (Mammoth Spider and Netcaster Spider) are worth more than they usually are, and you just have to keep in mind the fact that there will be a higher concentration of fliers than usual when you’re choosing your colors and deckbuilding–sitting behind a bunch of ground walls is almost certainly not going to be enough.

There are two cards that specifically deal with fliers: Reckless Air Strike and Plummet. They are better than normal in this format, but I would only maindeck them if my deck was especially vulnerable to fliers–I think they still perform better as sideboard cards overall.

The Speed

I’ve found that most decks are proactive. This doesn’t mean they’re all playing a bunch of bears and trying to kill as fast as possible (and in fact stalemates do happen quite often), but just that there aren’t many decks whose goals are to just durdle around and reach the late game. If I had to come up with a way to describe the format, I would say it’s “controlled aggression.” You want to be proactive and have ways to end the game, but you’re not necessarily trying to end the game as quickly as possible. Evasion can help break stalls and trading happens a lot, which means you want some sort of big creature to control the battlefield (cards like Feral Abomination and Ripscale Predator, for example, are surprisingly playable).

I think it’s close as to whether playing or drawing first in Sealed is correct, and will usually depend on your deck. If you have cheap reactive cards (like Shock or Spiders) then you will prefer drawing. If you have a more curve-out style of deck with fliers and tricks, then you’d prefer being on the play. As a super general rule, I would say that base-green and base-black decks are more likely to want to draw first, whereas the rest are more likely to want to play.

The Colors


White is not very impressive in this set; I would probably say it’s the worst color of them all. Pacifism is great, but past that there is a huge drop in the power level of the commons, and there are a lot of commons and uncommons that I’m just not happy to include in my deck. If you’re playing white, it’s probably because of the best white cards you have and not because it’s deep. White is almost always going to be aggressive, and it has a small “swarm” theme with Squad Captain, Inspired Captain and Inspired Charge, but there are plenty of cheap creatures around, so it’s possible that you curve out on people and then get shut down due to a lowly Spider.


Blue is always a color that can be played aggressively or defensively, depending on what you pair it with. Here, it leans more toward aggressive. Cards like Frost Lynx, Unsummon and Captivating Gyre perform much better on offense than defense, and there aren’t as many control cards. You can still play control with stuff like Winged Words and Scholar of Ages, but then a lot of your blue cards will be worse than expected.


Black is very deep and my pick for best color in the set. It has an incredible three common removal spells (and two of them can kill anything), which the other colors often just don’t have access to. It also has the actual best late-game card advantage in the form of Soul Salvage and Blood for Bones. I’ve found that, while black can certainly be played in all styles of decks, its cards perform better in a more grindy, late-game oriented deck.


Red also has three common removal spells, though they don’t kill any target like the black ones do. It is an aggressive color (red almost always is due to the nature of its creatures) but, again, it’s not all about curving out on your opponent–you do want certain mid-sized creatures like Fire Elemental and Ripscale Predator.

Red also has an Elemental subtheme (alongside blue and green), and I think you should look at it as a bonus rather than a plan, which means don’t go around playing bad creatures because they are Elementals but do enjoy the synergy when it happens to come up.


Green is also the same it’s always been: big bodies and not much else. The difference is that the bodies aren’t that big (other than the 7/7, that is), and there’s not as much fixing as in previous formats, so you’re less likely to be base green splashing a lot of removal spells. The Spiders and Rabid Bite are very important here to deal with fliers.

One card I’ve found to be somewhat of a disappointment is Leafkin Druid. In most formats, the two-mana Elf would be the best green common, but here it’s not close. Cards don’t cost that much in this format and you aren’t accelerating into anything that is going to run away with the game as there are very few mana sinks in the late game. On top of that, a lot of the early creatures have some sort of evasion so an 0/3 isn’t actually a great blocker. You’re still going to play Leafkin Druid, but don’t think you have to play green because you have two of them, because they’re just not that important.

That’s what I got for today–I hope you enjoy your prerelease!

– PV

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