Hi everybody, and thank you for returning to Strictly Average MTG. After being sick last week (sorry about that) I still want to talk about cards from Core Set 2020 as there are quite a few cards that may be missed on first glance. I have always loved these types of sets, and this one appears to be full of new cards that may see play at many tables in multiple formats.
Core Sets for Magic: the Gathering usually have a number of reprints, and are released in the summer to help introduce new players to the game. There was a two year absence for these sets in the summers of 2017 and 2018; with the elimination of three-set expansions happening on the same plane (example: Theros, Born of the Gods, and Journey Into Nyx) it will be interesting to see how these sets are designed going forward.
Just like any other Magic: the Gathering set release there are usually some “cycles”, or groups of cards that are represented in each color. One of the famous cycles was the one converted mana cost cycle in Alpha. The cards Healing Salve, Ancestral Recall, Dark Ritual, Lightning Bolt, and Giant Growth all cost one mana of their respective color, and did “3” of something. That could be damage, healing, adding mana, drawing cards, or even making your creature bigger. While Ancestral Recall quickly became the most powerful of this group, many of these cards have been used in some fashion throughout the history of the game, and have also been the basis of trying to provide powerful groupings of cards for each set release.
…and that’s where I’ll start with my look at the new Core set.
- Mask of Immolation: Artifacts that require a color to cast first appeared in Shards of Alara, and have been a fan favorite ever since. Cards such as Ancestral Blade, and Wolfrider’s Saddle all create a creature when the card comes into play, and are then immediately are equipped to the creature. These effects usually see some measure of play so make sure to look over them carefully.
- Cavalier of Thorns: The Cavalier cycle is another cycle in the same line as the Titans (ex: Sun Titan, Grave Titan), and the Avatars (ex: Soul of Ravnica, Soul of Zendikar), and these seem quite powerful. The one shown above may find a home in a deck looking to reanimate a creature from your graveyard to play. These big creatures may find a home in your deck so check them out.
- Temple of Silence: Not only a cycle, but also a needed reprint, the scry lands were a hit during the Theros expansions (Theros, Born of the Gods, and Journey Into Nyx). These lands not only help you have the right colors, but if the top card of your library is not what you are looking to draw next you can put that on the bottom of your library. These are excellent turn one plays, and if you do not have yours then here is your chance.
Speaking of reprints the Core sets are usually full of them. Let’s take a look at some. I’ll touch on a few others as I go over the individual colors.
- Planar Cleansing: Say it with me…PLANAR CLEANSING!!! I know six mana is a lot, but with the number of planeswalkers that came to Standard from War of the Spark this could be a tool used against them. Keep in mind Teferi, Time Raveler can allow you to cast this at instant speed.
- Leyline of the Void: Woah! This is a HUGE reprint especially for those of us who play Modern. Not only are we getting this, but reprints such as Leyline of Sanctity, and Leyline of Anticipation are both reprinted in this set. Red, and green received new leylines in Leyline of Combustion, and Leyline of Abundance. These cards have powerful effects, and can be played for free if they are in your opening hand when the game begins. While I’m not sure where their place in Standard is, I won’t deny I am happy to see them reprinted.
- Steel Overseer: Probably the most unusual of the reprints is this one. I don’t know of many artifact based aggro decks currently in Standard, but perhaps something is coming soon (a return to New Phyrexia perhaps)? The last time this entered Standard was right before we went back Mirrodin with Scars of Mirrodin. Only time will tell.
- Other reprints of note: Dungeon Geists, Disfigure, Ember Hauler, Loaming Shaman, and Grafdigger’s Cage. The number of reprints that target the graveyard have me concerned that there’s something coming that relies a lot on the graveyard. I like reanimation strategies like the next person, but with all of this hate would a deck like that be worth building in Standard? Maybe there’s a thought that Arclight Phoenix decks may become too good in the fall? At this moment it’s anyone’s guess.
Let’s take a look at four cards of each color, as well as multicolored, artifacts, and lands. There are a lot of good cards in this set, and we’re going to start off with one of the biggest surprises coming back to Standard.
Disenchant: Disenchant? Really? Holy cow this is great! I never thought I would see this card in Standard again, yet here we are. We have not seen this card in Standard since it’s Time Shifted inclusion in Time Spiral. For those of us who have been playing a long time this is huge. Since the last time it’s been in Standard these effects have usually been relegated to green so it’s nice to have it back.
Rule of Law: Do you have your Teferi, Time Ravelers? You should. Playing that into Rule of Law, after you have swept the board can help you lock up the game. One of the biggest problems control decks have is that after the creatures are cleared their opponents can play more than one creature if they have enough mana. The fact this is also downshifted in rarity should not be overlooked.
Brought Back: A card many of us Azorius Control players are looking at Brought Back has some interesting applications. While it does cost two white, if that’s left open, if you use all of the loyalty on your planeswalker while also having a fetchland (ex: Flooded Strand) in play you could bring both that fetchland and your planeswalker back in the same turn. That’s pretty powerful. We’ll see if it shows up anywhere though, as there’s a lot of setup to a card like this.
Pride">Ajani, Strength of the Pride: Ajani is back in this core set, and he has a lot of loyalty. While his is focused on providing you life based on the number of creatures you control, that same first ability also counts planeswalkers too. There are some cheap uncommon planeswalkers from War of the Spark that you may want to look at to build alongside him. Once you have fifteen or more life than what you started with you can exile this Ajani for a one sided effect that exiles artifacts and creatures your opponents control. Look out EDH fans!
Anticipate: One of my favorite blue cards of recent years Anticipate is the type of card I want to play. The ability to leave your mana up for a counterspell, and then use that at the right moment to find the best card of your next three can be a really good play. With Teferi, Time Raveler though I’m not sure how much this will see play.
Yarok’s Wavecrasher: Now here I am reviewing a set, and I put in an uncommon that’s a 4/4 for four mana?? Well I think this may be a good trick in EDH decks that have enter the battlefield triggers. Blinking this allows you to pick up a creature, and replay it causing the ability to trigger again. Also a four mana card that’s a 4/4, and has relevant text, should get anyone’s attention. I see what Wizards of the Coast is trying to do here, and it’s appreciated. Hopefully they push a bit more to get some neat cards like this in future core sets.
Flood of Tears: While Planar Cleansing requires at least three white mana to cast, this card is much more manageable. Again another card good with Teferi, Time Raveler, this will also allow you to put another permanent into play if you return four or more non-land permanents you control. While this may not seem that powerful, keep in mind the War of the Spark planeswalkers mostly have abilities that cause a loss of loyalty. This can be a way to reset multiple planeswalkers as you put one into play for free, and cast the rest again.
Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer: Mu Yangling, first seen in the Global Series series is now available in Standard. While her abilities may not be that great, the biggest concerns are her loyalty cost for the mana cost, and she can’t quite protect herself with a creature. It will be interesting to see where she is played, but that last ability is so far away from her starting loyalty that most Azorius based players should have won the game before getting there.
Duress: I am never sad to see this card included in a set. This is the type of card that, in my opinion, should always be in Standard. I was pretty sad when it became unavailable until its printing in Ixalan.
Blood for Bones: A new card for black, and this card definitely feels very black. I have felt that reanimation cards have been mostly absent from Standard, and this card seems really strong. Being able to sacrifice a smaller creature to put a larger one into play (perhaps Cavalier of Thorns) would be a lot of fun. Perhaps something can be made of this card?
Knight of the Ebon Legion: Now we get to talk about some sweet Vampires. It doesn’t matter if you are playing in Standard, or EDH, this card will find a lot of play. Creatures that have a small casting cost, and a small costed ability are usually really good. This one is no exception. Also when it comes down to aggro cards, many players may not want to block a creature that’s been given Deathtouch.
Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord: Another card that will play with Knight of the Ebon Legion, as well as other Vampires, this version of Sorin is very splashable with only one black in its mana cost. Keep in mind in EDH this can be cast on your second turn if you played Sol Ring on the first turn. That’s something I want to do for sure.
Shock: Just like Duress I am not sad to see this card. What this tells me though is that cards like Lightning Strike might be “too good” for inclusion in a Core set. The card is definitely fine, and should continue to see play.
Goblin Ringleader: With Goblin Matron becoming Modern legal due to its inclusion in Modern Horizons this card coming into the Core set has given Goblins the possibility of becoming a viable strategy. Tribal strategies are not only one of the most popular allowing players to play their favorite tribe (in this case Goblins), but it is also one of the easiest to introduce to new players. This is a great inclusion.
Chandra, Acolyte of Flame: This Core set has done something unique by providing us three versions of Chandra Nalaar. There is a version at Uncommon, Rare, and Mythic Rare, and this is just for Chandra. While I did not include Chandra, Novice Pyromancer I wanted to include the other two on the list. While it is unique that she does have two abilities that do not raise or lower her loyalty I don’t think she protects herself really well. That said there might be enough Chandra planeswalkers now where one can reliably make a mono-red prison style deck. At least that’s where my thoughts are going.
Chandra, Awakened Inferno: This Chandra though is very interesting. Not only can she not be countered, and not only does she provide an emblem with her first ability, but it’s the last one you really want to look at. While we shouldn’t do that with new planeswalkers this version of Chandra can immediately do up to six damage to a creature OR a planeswalker. That’s big. That’s really big. If Standard becomes slow enough where a card of this cost can be played look to see it at appear in Standard a lot.
Pulse of Murasa: Upgraded to Uncommon from Common it still nice to have Pulse of Murasa back in Standard. Six life is a lot to gain, and being able to return a creature or a land is also great. This card should see some sideboard play.
Elvish Reclaimer: While this card has been compared to Knight of the Reliquary in many ways, I see this being just a good creature in a format with a lot of utility lands, and a way to bring those lands back once used. Look for “Hatebear” style decks that are Selesnya (Green, or White), or Bant (Blue, Green, and White) to include this card. Keep in mind Crucible of Worlds is still available in Standard for a few months, but this ability is static. If there is ever a time you have less than three lands in your graveyard this card shrinks in power.
Vivien, Arkbow Ranger: Another Core set, another Vivien. This card will be featured in midrange decks to fight through defenses, or deal with opposing planeswalkers. Her first ability will always help you get past blockers, and her last ability allows you to find a creature from your sideboard to play. Do not sleep on this card.
Lightning Stormkin: I normally don’t stop when looking at a 2/2 for two mana, but the abilities on this card make this aggressively costed. Being able to attack upon casting for such a low cost makes this a good play early, and a decent one late. Favorable Winds is still in Standard, and this Core set also provides Empyrean Eagle to give your flyers a little bit of extra punch. Keep in mind the creature types on this can be very relevant (Wizard’s Lightning anyone?).
Risen Reef: At the moment the talk of the set, this pairs with Omnath, Locus of the Roil, and is a part of an Elemental deck being built. A lot of comparisons to Rogue Refiner are being made, and while this card is not as strong it is a really good card if you are building the Elementals deck.
Kaalia, Zenith Seeker: Kaalia of the Vast was my first general for EDH, and seeing this new version has me excited to not only play that deck, but update it. The fact you can cast this, get an Angel, Demon, or Dragon in hand to put into play with her original version is really strong. With her low casting cost I wonder what other play she may see beyond EDH.
Kykar, Wind’s Fury: This card brings Jeskai not only a new toy for EDH, but also for Standard. There are still a lot of good spells in Standard in those colors, and being able to make a spirit token upon casting (not resolution) of a non-creature spell is really strong. Jeskai Control may even make a comeback in Standard. Keep an eye out for this card. It reminds me a lot of Emeria Angel which saw some play when it was in Standard.
Vial of Dragonfire: Doing two damage to something has been a recurring theme in this Core set, and it’s nice to have a colorless option. While I don’t see this making a lot of play if there is a need for this effect, or something coming that counts what is in the graveyard, then this might have some level of importance. I would play this in Sealed or Draft at least.
Colossus Hammer: A +10/+10 enhancement to a creature? This card is crazy, and if you don’t have cards such as Sigarda’s Aid, or Puresteel Paladin, then you might be too late. I expect to see this card at least at FNMs, and it’s definitely one to brew with.
Bag of Holding: No this card does not cost thousands of gold, nor would it be found in a treasure horde deep in a dungeon when you are playing Magic: the Gathering, but you could find it those ways in Dungeons & Dragons. I really like this card, and in a way it reminds me of Trading Post‘s abilities. This card does protect you from discard effects, and as long as you keep it alive you can get those discarded cards back. I can see a lot of brewing with this card. I wonder how well it would work with Nahiri, the Harbinger.
Mystic Forge: This card is being talked about a lot in Vintage. While I don’t play that format, any card that allows you to look at the top card of your library at any time has a lot of potential. If that’s a land you don’t need would you exile it for one life? Yep. All the time. Also keep in mind you can exile the top card, look again to see if i’s a card you can cast, and then cast that card. Tron anyone?
Tranquil Cove: I know these may not excite a lot of players, but having all ten of these type of lands can help if you are playing a two color deck. The incidental life gain can also be important, especially if the format slows down.
Cryptic Caves: Earlier in this article I mentioned having good utility lands to make Elvish Reclaimer good, and this as well as the next card fit that description quite well. This is also another card that should remind you that Crucible of Worlds is Standard legal.
Field of the Dead: What was the last deck you remember that required having different lands in play to be good? If you answered Maze’s End then you’re paying attention. There is also the guildgate in Standard that this should find a home in as well.
Lotus Field: This is the chase card of the set right here. This card is 100% absurd, and the last time we had a card like this was Lotus Vale. What’s insane is this card is actually better. Sure it comes into play tapped, but playing a sweeper followed by this gives you access to a lot of mana when you get a chance to untap. Keep in mind this can not be targeted by spells or abilities your opponent may play.
This Coes set is full of cards for players to build any type of deck they want in Standard, and I can’t wait to see the full impact.
Wow! What a collection of cards. This set appears really good, but we still have to see how everything plays out. I hope a lot of these cards show up, but often times with Core sets their impact is not fully felt until after the fall release causes sets to leave Standard.
Were there cards in the set I overlooked? What’s your favorite card from Core Set 2020? Make sure to comment below, and follow me on both Facebook as well as Twitter. I’m going to try to make my way back into Standard after a long hiatus. As a matter of fact I’m going to discuss why you should be adding current Standard cards to your collection next week so stay tuned.
Until then…TAP MORE MANA!!!
Scott Campbell, better known as MTGPackFoils, has been playing Magic since he was 17 (which was in 1993). He’s known for loving decks such as Azorius Control, Jund, and others (especially in Modern). He is a husband, father, and a former nightclub DJ.