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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Jul 05 2018 12:00pm
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Core Set 2019 (M19) feels like a strange set to analyze for Limited’s sake, as it’s a set not designed to be drafted a million times. Instead, there are three main purposes for the set. First, the commons and uncommons are designed explicitly for new players, where the Welcome Decks, Deck Builder’s Toolkit, and Planeswalker decks came first and everything else was built around it (notably including no non-evergreen keyword mechanics other than “transform” on Nicol Bolas, the Ravager). Second, the rares are mostly extremely niche, with cards like Suncleanser, Alpine Moon, and Amulet of Safekeeping fighting problems in Constructed that may or may not exist. Finally, it’s throwing a bunch of random value reprints to try and get experienced players to buy packs—half of the non-Planeswalker non-Elder Dragon mythics are Crucible of Worlds (which ignoring value looks bad at mythic a year after Ramunap Excavator, Scapeshift, and Omniscience. Still, it’s a limited format, so since people are going to draft it, I might as well guide people through it. Thankfully the format seems very simple (with clear signpost uncommons), so it shouldn’t be too hard, and I’ll have plenty of room to talk about Treasure Chests.

 

Archetypes:

Before we get started, I should note that there are a lot of cards in M19 that don’t appear in booster packs, as there are five Planeswalker decks along with Nexus of Fate and Welcome Deck-exclusive reprints like Llanowar Elves. If you’re looking at the set yourself, the Scryfall criteria “Booster” will help a lot.

 

White/Blue: Artifacts

Aerial Engineer has a pretty good payoff for getting a single artifact, and Pillarfield Ox isn’t an awful worst case. However, outside of Aviation Pioneer and a couple rares, you’ll have to be getting your artifacts naturally. However, there are six common artifacts and cards like Explosive Apparatus and Skyspanner are very good in those slots. As for the other synergy cards, Aethershield Artificer is great on any artifact creature (even a lowly Blind Creeper), while Skilled Animator is the obvious combo card with Skyspanner even if it works well with any artifact. I just don’t know how often you’ll get the value from Trusty Packbeast, and save Gearsmith Prodigy for Constructed decks.

 

Blue/Black: Control/Card Advantage

In a world where a two-for-one isn’t that common, Psychic Symbiont as a regular three-for-one should turn some heads. Otherwise, the common control aspects are okay, as your main card draw is Divination, your counterspells are Cancel and Essence Scatter (though strangely the set has both Essence Scatter and Bone to Ash), and the removal is relatively expensive. However, there are two points in favor of this that you don’t normally get. The fliers are better than average in M19 in both blue (Snapping Drake, Horizon Scholar) and black (Skymarch Bloodletter, Fell Specter). The lifegain theme also helps the deck survive until the late game, since you get it for free on cards that are already good like Vampire Sovereign and Nightmare's Thirst. The upgrade in creatures is better than the downgrade in removal is worse, so control seems well-positioned in M19.

 

Black/Red: Sacrifice

Brawl-Bash Ogre wants to bash your opponent with your creatures, and while a 5/5 Menace for 4 is okay and other sacrifice outlets like Ravenous Harpy are good, the question is always going to be how good the fodder is. Unfortunately the pickings in RB are slim: Reassembling Skeleton is obviously going to be the goal for the archetype, Goblin Instigator gives multiple bodies, and Dragon Egg and Doomed Dissenter want to die, but other than that you’re going to be sacrificing actual cards or looking into other colors. This means you should be more selective and look for cards that are more efficient: Brawl-Bash Ogre and Blood Divination pass this test, while Thud and Ravenous Harpy do not. Of course, this is the removal color pair as always, and there are plenty of choices, even if cards like Strangling Spores and Shock don’t match up as well to the higher quality of removal we’ve seen in recent sets.

 

Red/Green: Ramp

A ramp creature with a decent body who’s also a mana sink? Dragonic Disciple seems like a great choice for what will likely be a slower format that’s back to basics. Druid of the Cowl, Elvish Rejuvinator, and Gift of Paradise are good ramp spells as well, and red even helps a bit with Catalyst Elemental. The other question is what you’ll ramp into, and as much of a meme as Colossal Dreadmaw is becoming, it’s a good choice at six—I’d rather have it than the similar Ghastbark Twins, for example. Red also has a lot of good options, as Volcanic Dragon is a nice hasty choice, while Sparktongue Dragon seems surprisingly pushed for a common. Rhox Oracle and Colossal Majesty also give you some selection, and Rabid Bite is a strong choice for the “fight” card of the set. Overall this archetype seems like a good choice as a default.

 

Green/White: Enchantments/Auras

Satyr Enchanter may say “enchantment” in its card text, but at least in Limited, cards like Druid of Horns and Novice Knight point towards an Auras strategy, as do simpler cards like Daybreak Chaplain and Vine Mare. However, for an enchantment theme to work there needs to be a good volume of enchantments, and M19 just doesn’t have that. Yes, Blanchwood Armor and Knightly Valor are powerful, and Talons of Wildwood works well enough to get a higher density of Auras, but Knight's Pledge is your fifth-best Aura, and that isn’t a good place to be. Maybe I’m underestimating the power level of big things in this format, but I’d rather have my big things not take multiple cards to get out.

 

White/Black: Lifegain

The Orzhov may have been pigeonholed into lifegain strategies recently, but that doesn’t make Regal Bloodlord any less good. The nice thing about lifegain is that it’s such a universal concept that recent hits like Skymarch Bloodletter (and its new bigger brother Vampire Sovereign, my early pick for sleeper of the set) can be paired with old favorites like Ajani's Pridemate. However, just keep in mind the golden rule for lifegain cards: lifegain on cards is good, but it has to do something else other than just gain life. That means Nightmare's Thirst, Dwarven Priest, and even Diamond Mare are good, Revitalize and Vampire Neonate are more marginal, and Ajani's Welcome and Leonin Vanguard are blanks. The card I’m wondering most about is Sovereign's Bite: obviously Lava Spikes are bad in Limited, but this is a relatively efficient one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a deck that gets 5+ of these along with some better drain effects and efficient fliers is good enough.

 

Blue/Red: Spells

The only reprint of the signpost uncommons, Enigma Drake was a good card back in Hour of Devastation, and it should be better here in a format with fewer frills. I’m just wondering if there’s enough support for a full spells archetype to be viable. Yes, Crash Through, Tormenting Voice, Anticipate, and Sift are all good spells to cast, but other than Aven Wind Mage (yet another sign Prowess isn’t evergreen anymore), the expensive Salvager of Secrets, and the clunky Doublecast, there isn’t much of a reason to go full-spells, so the deck is most likely going to be a normal Limited deck with a couple more cards that cycle than normal.

 

Black/Green: Midrange/Death

Poison-Tip Archer seems surprisingly pushed, as Kessig Recluse was a good card and this adds an effect that can deal a lot of damage. This feels like the deck that wants more of the dedicated sacrifice outlets, though green doesn’t add much to the strategy besides the archer. This feels mostly like a good stuff deck that can recur its good creatures with cards like Macabre Waltz and Recollect, and thus there isn’t much to say beyond “draft good cards.”

 

Red/White: Go Wide

While this strategy is one of the most common in Limited period, I think there’s a clear difference: I don’t think it’s that good this time. To start with, is it just me, or is Heroic Reinforcements not that good? By itself it’s a slightly better Viashino Firstblade, which is a fine card, just not one to build an archetype around. Other than that, your team pump spells are the typical Trumpet Blast and Inspired Charge alongside Make a Stand, and while Angel of the Dawn is good, Leonin Vanguard certainly isn’t. Then again, your team-maker cards of Gallant Cavalry and Goblin Instigator are good, and there are other good aggressive cards like Cavalry Drillmaster and Viashino Pyromancer, so maybe you don’t need to lean hard on the token/pump side and can just punish all the slow decks?

 

Green/Blue: Fatties/Fliers?

What am I supposed to make of Skyrider Patrol? It’s clearly a good card, but I’m not sure what it points to. In other sets I’d say it’s a counter theme (and easily could play that role in a future Masters set), but here I’m assuming it’s just supposed to send big creatures into the air, which is nice (though note Plummet is in the set) but doesn’t point to what the deck is. The deck mainly seems like the “good creature” deck, which might be good enough in a set that’s going back to basics.

 

Other Important Cards:

Starting with colorless cards, the most important part is that the basic land slot can occasionally be replaced by a tapland (Meandering River, Forsaken Sanctuary, and the like). Just under 50% of boosters have a dual land (5/12 to be exact), so on average 10 duals (or one of each kind) will be opened in a draft. This also means decks will be slightly better since there are more meaningful cards per booster. Most of the other colorless cards have roles (mostly in the artifact deck), but make sure you aren’t playing Reliquary Tower, and Rupture Spire isn’t for two-color decks as it has a very high opportunity cost. Otherwise, there isn’t much hidden here since the cards are simple: play efficient cards, maximize the synergies in your decks, and avoid more situational cards like Duress or Aether Tunnel. Now let’s move to the other big story with the M19 release:

 

Treasure Chest Update: Core Set 2019

The Treasure Chests have seen a lot of movement recently, and I didn’t even cover the “catch-up” of the Dominaria foil Legends due to the previous error in Dominaria packs online. The M19 changes are very interesting though, and we’ll start with the most important addition:

 

Battlebond Additions:

The list of cards came out right after my previous article and at first glance it looks good with 38 of the 85 new cards (about the same as other multiplayer booster sets, and those had fewer new cards total), especially when you consider it’s only been about a month since the paper release and that all the cards that specifically reference “team” like (Decorated Champion), along with the “friend or foe” cycle. However, the question is what was left out. The first category is Assist which is a pain to code for not much benefit (only Play of the Game and The Crowd Goes Wild have effects that aren’t outclassed in non-multiplayer matches, and those are marginal at best). Second are the “Partner with” cards, and while there are lots of important cards here (including the set’s Planeswalkers and multiple commanders), WotC has said they want to get at least the Legendary “Partner with” cards on MTGO in the future. Finally there are nine other cards missing, and while that list includes some weird cards like Grothama, All-Devouring and some limited-focused cards like Azra Oddsmaker, it also includes three notable cards for constructed: Spellseeker, Stadium Vendors, and Archon of Valor’s Reach. Spellseeker is obviously the big one there, and to WotC’s credit, Alli said it’s a high priority for the next release after M19 (though it isn’t clear if she means the next MTGO build or Guilds of Ravnica’s release). The excuse isn’t quite as good (apparently implementing the Brawl changes was so difficult it distracted from Battlebond), but the communication itself is good, and again, based on previous sets we wouldn’t have seen this until around November, so even August or September for Spellseeker isn’t awful. We’ll see what else happens, and whether the Commander 2018 card release on MTGO is as good as Battlebond has been.

 

As for their distribution in the chests themselves, the Battlebond cards get their own grouping, and the distribution within that slot isn’t too wild with commons and uncommons getting 10 copies, rares getting 3, and mythics getting 1 (with no changes from paper rarity), for a total of 198 copies. The slot itself is more interesting though, as instead of being evenly distributed through all three slots, they’re only in Slot 3 with a 40% chance (taken entirely from the Standard Common/Uncommon group). While this does mean that you’ll only get one Battlebond card per pack max, it also means your guaranteed non-C/U in Slot 1 won’t be a Battlebond card. Overall that means that one (Brightling) will be opened every 495 chests, which doesn’t seem awful.

 

New Promos:

While Nexus of Fate may be the most important card here in a while if all the hype around a possibly playable Buy-a-Box Promo turns out to have merit, the flashiest card is definitely True-Name Nemesis, with a new art to boot. Of course, a promo at a rate of 6 has nothing on a mythic in a normally-priced booster set, but if nothing else it reintroduces the card into the chests overall. As for the other promos, Traxos, Scourge of Kroog is nice (and makes sense for an MTGO-exclusive since its main format appears to be Vintage, at least in the short term) and I’m shocked that those great Urzatron lands aren’t being released in paper as well, especially since their only Modern-border printings are the white-bordered ones.

 

Curated List Changes:

Why does WotC keep changing the way they format the lists? The list of curated list changes only shows the change rather than the initial and final values (and also sorts them by that change and then by set rather than alphabetically), and while the delta is most useful for the average person seeing what changed, it’s more annoying for me when I’m trying to get an idea for the list as a whole (though most changes can be implied and only a change of 6 or 3 is ambiguous). Of course, the biggest change doesn’t require that data: the list has been reduced by 1,505 copies total, leaving the current list with only 5,150 copies. Over 500 of those removals come from the axing of most of the remaining Masterpieces on the curated sheet, and another 260 come from a culling of supplemental set and Treasure Chest cards. Other than the new promos being added (both the MTGO-exclusive ones detailed above and all the M19 ones like Death Baron and Guttersnipe), only about 200 cards were added, and most of those were either lands making up for the removal of Expeditions (including all ten fetches and enemy filterlands) or Standard-focused cards, including the debut of Dominaria. While the mass removal of cards is almost always going to be a good thing for the value of chests (and that doesn’t even count Battlebond), I think it’s pointing to another thing: a mass addition of cards from a new set of Guilds of Ravnica Masterpieces this fall.

 

Conclusion:

Overall M19 is going to be an interesting set for Limited, and the Treasure Chest changes are surprisingly good too. What’s next for me also came from the M19 on MTGO article, as another set means another set of special phantom events. Of the things I care about, there’s one repeat (triple-Zendikar—technically a double-repeat, but my second article was a remaster, and this will be an expansion), one new format (triple-Khans of Tarkir—again, technically it’s a repeat, but the first time was a last-minute replacement I couldn’t cover), and an unknown (the last unknown was the first Cube Spotlight, but that has its own place in the schedule). As such, unless something special happens, the next time you see me should be in a month with Triple-Zendikar.

 

Vincent

@VincentSIFTD on Twitter