Welcome to my first edition of Pack 1 Pick 1 for Core Set 2019. I’ve done about 10 Drafts at this point. The format is nothing like Dominaria—but what is, really? Creature attacking matters, like it does in most Limited formats. I’m still forming my opinions as the format is new, but so far it feels to me that big creatures are good, and small utility creatures and flyers are cool. Small ground pounders can get brickwalled easily unless you equip them with an Aura or Equipment, or use things like Pegasus Courser and Star-Crowned Stag to get them through. With back-to-back Core Set Limited GPs coming up, I’ll be playing a ton of core set Limited so don’t be shy—all constructive feedback is appreciated. Let’s crack five packs.
This card is amazing. It’s a great win condition for any blue controlling strategy since it dodges creature removal. Meanwhile, it draws you over an extra card a turn, while decking the opponent quickly. It combos especially well with Psychic Corrosion because every time you draw an extra card by hitting a land with Rebuilding you mill two more cards with Corrosion. Millstone and Corrosion are fine for milling someone out, but they are usually my back-up plan when I draft a control deck. If I open Patient Rebuilding, mill becomes plan A.
Honorable Mention: Lich’s Caress
This card is even better than it looks. Big creatures are good again. Even vanilla ones like Colossal Dreadmaw and Thornhide Wolves can easily win a game and cards like Herald of Faith and Siegebreaker Giant are basically must-kills. Throw in that you have a common in Salvager of Secrets that can buyback your Lich’s Caress and this card is a windmill slam. Killing big creatures is a lot more important than killing small ones in this format, making Lich’s Caress my early pick for best common in the set.
Runic Armasaur, Militia Bugler, and Shock are all close. But there are playable Auras and Equipment at common in this set. There are also several playable artifact creatures at common, and Luminous Bonds and Dwindles floating around too. Reclamation Sage will almost always hit something, and when it can’t, instead of a dead card, you at least get a 2/1. This card isn’t always going to be game-breaking, but it will usually trade around even on mana with what it kills and leave you up a 2/1. That’s a big advantage in a game of Limited.
Honorable Mention: Shock
While I don’t think killing small creatures is as important as killing big creatures in this format, Shock is efficient. It will most often kill a 2-drop but when it hits a 2/2 flyer for 3, which both blue and black have at common, that’s a great exchange. I also don’t mind 2-for-1’ing myself to kill a big creature with one of my small creatures and Shock. Small creatures often end up close to irrelevant by turn 5 or 6 in this format, but they are still very playable due to synergies with having creatures in play, good Auras and Equipment, and some have good enters-the-battlefield abilities. Last, but far from irrelevant: it can hit players and I have found a lot of games to be close races where life is a valuable resource. Shock is the only cheap removal at common in the format, so it should still be drafted aggressively.
There are games where this card will be too slow and unproductive. It’s like Chaos Wand in that it can single-handedly win a game, or be close to a mulligan. That said, it can single-handedly win a game. Turning your opponent’s big flyers and big green creatures into 2/4s is worth the mana. I’m not sure if this card is better on average than my honorable mention out of this pack, but it is an artifact and useful for any type of deck, so it gets the nod as my first pick. Unlike Dominaria, I don’t really like to splash often in this format, so first-picking an artifact has a lot of extra value. Being able to upgrade your own Omenspeaker, Doomed Dissenter, Skyscanner, and Goblin Instigator provides meaningful value too.
Honorable Mention: Regal Bloodlord
This card is very powerful. If you make a 1/1 Bat every turn, you are a massive favorite to win any Draft game. There are several cards that can do that in this format. Vampire Neonate is one at common, a card I’m already a major fan of since life feels more relevant than usual in M19, and it gives you an effective way to spend your mana when you are flooding or when the game is stalemating a little. There’s also Diamond Mare and Leonin Vanguard at uncommon. There are additionally a bunch of very playable cards that gain life once. If you only make one Bat, you still get 3 power and 5 toughness of flying for 5 mana. That’s already good. Now imagine if you make two Bats. Three? You get the point.
Creatures trade. They get killed by removal. They go to the graveyard. A 2-mana 3/2 that turns every dead creature into a 2/2 in play is incredible. Sure, the body is a little fragile and it’s tough to cast on turn 2, but you don’t want to cast it on turn 2 anyway (cast it on turn 2 if you don’t have another 2-drop, but save it for later if you have other stuff to do). If you play it on turn 5 you can use it right away, because the ability doesn’t require you to tap it, and you get a 2-for-1 even if they have removal. Also, you can use Macabre Waltz to buy it back from the graveyard if the opponent kills it. Waltz is good on its own because this format lacks flood-out protection, but when you pair it with powerful cheap creatures like Graveyard Marshal, it becomes a home run.
Honorable Mention: Hieromancer’s Cage
The mana added to the casting cost of Oblivion Ring might drastically alter how good a removal spell it is for Standard, but it doesn’t matter much for Booster Draft. Unconditional removal like this is strong in M19. This is an easier-to-cast Lich’s Caress that can hit enchantments, artifacts, and planeswalkers instead of gaining 3 life. That’s an upgrade, and you pay 1 mana less for it. I don’t like splashing much, but if you start with this and move out of white you can still pick up a Luminous Bonds and light splash two great removal spells. I would expect to first-pick this out of most packs, but I think the rare in this pack just happens to be even stronger.
This is probably the pick that will surprise the people reading this article the most. That is, unless you have played against a good go-wide deck with this card. I think Boros go-wide aggro is one of the very best archetypes in this format, likely number 1. Pairing Goblin Instigator, Gallant Cavalry, and a deck full of cheap aggressive creatures with Angel of the Dawn and Inspired Charge is a great strategy you can play with commons. Heroic Reinforcements does everything you want in this archetype. It pumps the team you already have out and gives you two additional 2/2 hastes to attack with this turn. Then next turn you still have two additional creatures to swarm attack along with everything you already had out, and can cast Angel of the Dawn or Inspired Charge. Good luck to the opponent.
Honorable Mention: Demon of Catastrophes
Shock, Electrify, Strangling Spores, and Rabid Bite are unlikely to be able to kill this thing. That still leaves a few commons like Dwindle, Luminous Bonds, and Lich’s Caress, but unconditional removal is already at a premium in games of M19 Draft, so those cards were already going to be good. There are a lot of small bodies you can sacrifice to this and feel great about. It goes together with Doomed Dissenter like peanut butter and jelly, but don’t feel like you need a combo to make this card good. Never sacrifice a real 3-drop on turn 4 unless your opponent is playing R/G and it’s game 1 (Plummet shouldn’t be in the main very often), but generally play this as soon as you have a small creature that is blanked and not really providing much value. 6/6 flyers can win a lot of games in this format, and it doesn’t matter much if you sacrifice a creature enchanted with Luminous Bonds or a 1/1 or 2/1 that isn’t doing anything. Just don’t sacrifice creatures that are still attacking or blocking effectively unless you are confident that your opponent can’t kill the Demon.
When a new set comes out it is normally my favorite time in Magic. Discovering the new Limited format is an amazing experience. I’m not going to pretend that I’m not sad to see Dominaria go or that Core Set 2019 is going to be roughly as good as Dominaria because it isn’t. But it does seem like an interesting world where we must discover how to value each card and what decks are good, and I’m excited about that. My early impressions are that big creatures are good and small non-utility creatures aren’t unless you are enhancing them. Removal for small creatures is merely okay, while removal for big creatures is very valuable. These impressions are guiding my picks in this article. I don’t know yet if they are right or wrong. Let me know what you think