It’s here! It’s finally here! The core set is back and we finally have the release valve we need to keep Standard healthy! Magic Core Set 2019 has been released to much fanfare as people are clamoring for Wizards to “fix” Standard. Many are claiming Core Sets will be the avenue for printing silver bullet cards to keep the dominant strategies in check. After the first Magic Online Standard Competitive League 5-0 Decklist dump on July 9, we see a whole lot of not much has changed. Mono-Red and Black-Red aggro are still there. GB Constrictor and Gx Stompy are still there. The UW and UB control decks are still there. And there aren’t many new cards in them. Some of them are even 100% still the same-old shell from Dominaria Standard. While this could be attributed to card availability as these lists were published just 3 days after M19 was released, it could also be that the high power level from Kaladesh and Amonkhet are simply too strong to be affected. OK, everybody, back to your seats. Nothing to see here…NOTHING TO SEE HERE!!! While some people are clamoring to talk about the spicy splashes that are being included in the existing archetypes, I say we should be looking for clues as to where the new cards WILL see their breakouts in the new decks that stand out like a sore thumb. I think the really interesting evolutions come in the form of two new mono-color decks.
To start the new archetype talk, we have a Mono-Black Zombies list running 12 cards in the main deck and 2 in the sideboard from M19.
We have new creatures main in the form of Diregraf Ghoul, Graveyard Marshal, and Death Baron with some of the lists using Plague Mare while others are leveraging the recursive power of the zombies to help deploy big threats like Bone Picker and Demon of Catastrophes. You also have 2 copies of the newest version of Liliana Vess in the M19 Planeswalker Liliana, Untouched by Death. The Zombie synergies are at their max right now and with access to 3 different lords, it’s hard to imagine that this deck won’t be a player in the meta. I get the feeling that this will be a solid Tier-1.5 or Tier-2 deck. It also seems like a decent place to be heading into the release of Guilds of Ravnica in October. Both the Dimir and Golgari guilds have historically had some Zombie creatures worth looking at and VERY strong graveyard themes.
The other new archetype that appears to be a serious contender in the Tier-2 category is the Mono-White Monument list.
This deck is running 16 main deck cards (all creatures) and 1 card in the sideboard (a Planeswalker) from M19. The 4-each copies of Mentor of the Meek, Militia Bugler, Remorseful Cleric, and Suncleanser main from M19 coupled with Oketra’s Monument (which is doing it’s best Aether Vial impression), this deck plays a lot like a Hatebears list. The Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants in the board is the other new addition. While this one technically has one more new card than the Zombies deck, I don’t think it will have the same staying power and especially not going into the fall rotation where we wont be seeing either of the two Guilds that lend themselves most to the “hatebears” style of play (Azorius and Orzhov in case you were wondering).
I don’t want to completely disregard the crazy splashes in the existing archetypes because, while they probably don’t have the staying power in an established meta, they’re still fun! The biggest sore thumb in all of these lists is a Red-Black Aggro deck that has splashed Blue for 2 copies of The Scarab God and a full 4 (yes FOUR) copies of Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. Talk about going big for the late game and attacking from a completely unexpected axis. While I don’t think that splashing Blue for a 3-color 4-mana 4/4 Dragon is where the Red Aggro archetype is heading, and this is simply an early list that snuck in there, it is telling of the power level of Nicol Bolas.
Once a second set of 5-0 decklists were published on July 12, we get to see a stronger picture of the Standard meta shaping up. More UWx control featuring Teferi. More Red-Black Aggro. More Steel Leaf Stompy. Zombies continue to show up, and the Monument deck is even back (but with a Blue splash). The real standout here is the emergence of Grixis control centered around our new overlord, Nicol Bolas. I told you he was powerful. There are some lists that opt for using Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh and going a pure control route, while others are running Nicol Bolas, the Ravager in a more grindy, creature-dense midrange-control shell.
Keeping a sharp eye out for the other new decks that might be fringe-y but still viable, there are 3 more that are either new to this set of decklists, or returning in a re-vamped way that give them a little bit of credibility. The first one the really stands out is a Black-White Knights deck featuring Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants.
There is also a crazy fun looking Tezzerator list in the July 12 Magic Online lists.
It features Tezzeret the Schemer and Tezzeret, Artifice Master and a host of cheap artifacts, with the anti-aggro addition of Fountain of Renewal coming out of M19. Oh, did I forget to mention the 4 copies of Karn, Scion of Urza? Yeah, the Karn-father is really the engine that makes this deck tick, but this is an archetype that will always be explored. Because where there’s a Tezzeret, there’s a way.
The final off-the-wall strategy that I want to take a peek at is the Wurm Ramp decks. This is a variation of the tried and true Green-Red Monsters archetype that we all know and love.
Using early ramp in the form of Gift of Paradise, Grow from the Ashes, or Spring // Mind and Red removal to stave off the early throngs of attackers, these decks are trying to get to large game ending beaters like Sifter Wurm, Pelakka Wurm, and Sandwurm Convergence. While they are ultimately doing powerful things, these lists look like they will run into the same problem that all ramp decks face, consistency. Too often in the ramp strategy you end up drawing the wrong half of your deck and either flooding out on the small enablers or getting stuck on lands holding nothing but your bombs.
We finally get to this weekend’s tournaments for some “real results” with the Star City Games Open and the Star City Games Classic in Worcester, MA. Although the Open was a team format event with Modern and Legacy performances also factoring in to the top-8 results, it’s likely that they wouldn’t have made it this far into the tournament without being at least decent decks. With 3 Red-Black Aggro decks, 2 Teferi decks, a Blue-White God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck and a Steel Leaf Stompy deck in the top 8, it is looking like Standard is holding firm to the decks of yore, highlighted by a Red-Black Aggro mirror in the finals. But that’s only 7 decks…so what was the one new deck to crack the top tables? You guessed it, our new overlord, Nicky B! The creature heavy “midrange” version of the Grixis deck piloted by Kevin Thanakit is the deck I think will become the new heavy hitter of Standard.
The SCG Classic results further cements this deck as a legitimate player in the meta with another 3 players piloting to a top-8 finish on the back of Nicol Bolas and co.
While some old decks have received a new card or two, some have gone off the rails with the splashes, and some entirely new archetypes have popped up, it is looking like once the dust settles on the M19 Standard format one new challenger to the status quo will have emerged. I am looking forward to seeing what results the first Grand Prix event will bring us and whether or not these early MTGO and SCG decklists can make an appearance. Core sets are designed for new players to have an entry point into Magic, and therefore they are inherently less powerful than the “Expert Level Expansions” we get from our visits to the Planes. They are also intended to give us that “relief valve” all of the hype coming into this release was talking about. Where this set will really shine is in-between the lines, with the rogue decks at FNM that come from nowhere to surprise the field while the more competitive “GP meta” continues to be dominated by the “Tier” decks. Teferi/Karn control will still be extremely powerful, Red Aggro will still be blisteringly fast, Green/X decks will still grind out value, and the new kid on the block, Grixis will give them all a run for their money.
Eric has been an avid Magic fan and player since re-discovering the game in 2012. He is a Red mage at heart but likes to confuse himself with the varying decision trees presented by mid-range and control decks from time to time.
Eric plays mostly casually with his 9-year-old daughter, but manages to get out for every prerelease and a few FNM’s and GP’s every year.