Wizards of the Coast has certain core competencies, strengths that they reveal to us on such a regular basis that we sometimes take them for granted. Wizards is good at creating new sets of Magic cards. This weekend, it’s time to celebrate the newest release, Core Set 2019. A couple of years ago, WOTC announced that they were not going to produce this type of basic Magic product any longer. It was hard to imagine Magic without core sets. In this, the silver anniversary of the game we love, there has been a lot of attention paid to the very first Magic set, Limited Edition Alpha. Back then, we just called it Magic: the Gathering. Alpha is very reminiscent of a core set.
Neither we, the first purchasers of Magic cards, nor the creators of the game, had any idea of what the future would bring. Wizards’ first question, twenty-five years ago, was “will anybody buy this thing?” A few months later, as the Alpha boosters and then the Beta boosters all disappeared from store shelves, their primary question became “will we ever be able to print enough cards to satisfy everyone?” Magic became an immediate phenomena starting in August, 1993. Flip the calendar forward 300 months and you arrive here, at the prerelease weekend for Core Set 2019.
As enjoyable as Magic Origins was to play three summers ago, I admit that I was happy to hear that core sets were going away. Core sets are full of reprints and very basic cards. Core sets were always intended for the newer Magic player. Core sets don’t offer as much value for veteran Magic players. For us, core sets can represent several months of drab booster drafts. Wizards started perking up their core sets with new cards and a better mix of cards for limited play beginning with Magic 2010 in 2009. Core sets have been a little more fun for veteran players ever since.
Me and my friends have greatly enjoyed playing limited with the previous set, Dominaria. One criticism about Dominaria, from some, was that they believed it played too much like a core set. I immediately reminded these individuals that an actual core set was coming this July. That may sound like I’m betting against Core Set 2019 even before it arrives. I don’t mean to sound that way. Core sets have a role in the world of Magic and I believe this kind of product needs to exist. Old man complaints aside, I’ll be at one of my favorite local game stores Friday night at midnight to try out the new set and I’ll be excited to do so.
If you haven’t ever played in a prerelease, I’d like to point you to any number of primer videos and articles elsewhere on the internet. The basics of sealed deck don’t change much from set to set. Always sort all of the cards in your card pool by color and read all of them before you decide what you’re going to play. Stick with two colors if possible. If you play a third color make it just a splash with one or two or three cards. If you build a sealed deck that’s almost equal parts of three different colors, I guarantee you will be color-screwed on mana more times than the other players in the room. Never play more than forty cards. Find the best twenty-three cards in your pool among two colors and pair those cards with seventeen lands and prepare to battle. Prereleases can be Magic’s most fun events of the year. Everyone is playing with the cards for the first time. There are no experts yet. Exploration was always part of the plan when Wizards of the Coast created this game that we love all those years ago. At the same time, your local game store is probably awarding match winners with booster packs. As long as there are prizes involved, I’d like to help you win more booster packs at your Core Set 2019 prerelease events.
When I start studying a new set before prerelease weekend, I always start with the commons and then the uncommons. Rares and mythics, when they are great, scream out at you the moment you open them in your packs. It’s usually obvious which rares and mythics are really powerful, particularly when it comes to sealed deck play. At the same time, there are only going to be seven rares or mythics in your prerelease pool. Six will come from the six booster packs you open. Your seventh rare or mythic will be your special foil prerelease card, it can be any rare or mythic in Core Set 2019.
What will matter more than the rares in your pool are the commons and uncommons. While you only have seven rares and mythics, your pool will contain eighteen uncommons and sixty commons. Knowing what commons and uncommons are the best for sealed deck is more important than worrying about the rares and mythics that you opened. Or didn’t open. I concentrate on the commons and uncommons when I’m getting ready for prerelease weekend. I’d like to share with you the five or six best commons and uncommons for sealed deck in each color. The cards are arranged in best to worst order. Even though there are a lot of reprinted cards in the set I will be concentrating primarily on the brand new cards. I also present the five colors in what I believe is the best to worst order for Core Set 2019 sealed decks.
Switcheroo is an uncommon sorcery for 4U that lets you exchange control of two target creatures. Originally printed in Magic 2013, Switcheroo can have a devastating effect on your opponent as you exchange one of your 1/1 creatures for their giant 6/6 flyer, or whatever. This is a game changing card almost every time it is played in limited.
Exclusion Mage is an uncommon 2/2 Human Wizard for 2U that bouncing a target creature an opponent controls when Exclusion Mage enters the battlefield. I almost didn’t want to review this creature because it’s such a close copy of several other creatures from Magic’s past. But you could say something similar about a lot of creatures in new sets. There are only so many design elements to put on a card. Exclusion Mage does what Academy Journeymage did in Dominaria, only for one or two less mana. You won’t see as many Exclusion Mages, unfortunately, since it is an uncommon instead of common like Academy Journeymage. This is a must-play in all blue decks that have it available.
Mirror Image is an uncommon Shapeshifter for 2U. You may have Mirror Image enter the battlefield as a copy of any creature you control. One mana cheaper than Clone, which was an uncommon in Alpha-Beta-Unlimited-Revised but a rare in its eight other printings, Mirror Image is less powerful in that it can only create a copy of a creature you control. I might not want to play more than a single copy of this spell, but if I have very good creatures in my deck I will be thrilled to copy one of them for just 2U.
Dwindle is a common aura enchantment for 2U that gives the creature it enchants -6/-0. Furthermore, when enchanted creature is destroyed when it blocks. This is blue’s best removal spell in the set. Blue has always had its share of creature-neutering enchantments that leave your opponent with a blocker for the rest of the game. Dwindle goes a long way to solving that problem. First, Dwindle takes away most creatures’ ability to deal damage. Your opponent can block with their creature, but only once. It’s somewhat interesting to note that the enchanted creature is destroyed immediately upon being selected to block something. It doesn’t die because of combat damage. If a creature enchanted with Dwindle blocks a trampling creature, all of the trample damage will be applied to the player controlling the now-deceased blocker.
Aven Wind Mage is a common 2/2 Bird Wizard with flying for 2U. Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell this creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn. This triggered ability is marginally worse than prowess. Still, one of the reasons you’re going to play blue cards is flying and this card does good work in your deck’s three-slot.
Departed Deckhand is an uncommon 2/2 Spirit Pirate for 1U. When this creature becomes the target of a spell you have to sacrifice it. This creature can’t be blocked except by Spirits. Finally, you can spend 3U to give another creature you control the ability to be blocked only by Spirits until end of turn. This card might seem brittle because any targeting spell of your opponent’s can cause it to go away. True enough, but this is a 2/2 for two mana with some evasion. Any removal spell your opponent would play would probably kill this creature even if it didn’t have its unfortunate sacrifice clause.
Dryad Greenseeker is an uncommon 1/3 Dryad for 1G. You can tap this creature to look at the top card of your library. If it’s a land card you can reveal it and put that card into your hand. This card does so many things that are good for you. On turn two, it’s a useful blocker in the early turns of the game. It can get you free cards and help you get needed lands. Even when it doesn’t find a land on top of your deck it is providing useful information to you. It’s the best green card that isn’t a rare or mythic.
Declare Dominance is an uncommon sorcery for 3GG. This spell gives a target creature +3/+3 until end of turn. All creatures able to block it this turn do so. Pump one of your creatures with this spell and then attack with all your creatures. All of your opponent’s creatures are forced to block the creature you pumped with Declare Dominance. You might target your smallest creature so that your larger creatures will attack unblocked and deal maximum damage to your opponent’s face. You might target your biggest creature if you figure to be able to kill all of your opponent’s blockers while your creature somehow survives. Maybe you target a creature that has deathtouch. Now you’re extremely likely to kill all of the blockers. Declare Dominance fills the role of a card like Overrun in Core Set 2019. It’s not as good as Overrun, but it will often be the last spell you play right before you win the game.
Elvish Rejuvenator is a common 1/1 Elf Druid for 2G. When this creature enters the battlefield you look at the top five cards of your library. You may put a land card from among those onto the battlefield tapped. Then you put the other cards on the bottom of your library in a random order. In most cases, this is a spell that finds a land for you and accelerates your mana while giving you a 1/1 chump blocker as a bonus. Of course, it won’t feel good when you whiff and don’t find a land among the top five cards of your library. It’s also a bummer that you often won’t find a needed land for your third color splash with this card. It’ll help in most situations, however. I will play multiple copies if I have them.
Rabid Bite is a common sorcery for 1G that makes a target creature you control deal damage equal to its power to a target creature you don’t control. The fight mechanic, which is not what this card does, gives green access to creature removal. This card is better than fight. Your creature is going to deal damage to their creature but their creature doesn’t deal any damage to yours. This is the kind of one-sided fighting that has kept HBO Sports in business for thirty years. This is a must-play card for all green decks.
Bristling Boar is a common 4/3 Boar for 3G. This creature can’t be blocked by more than one creature. This means that your Boar will trade more often with a creature at least as good and at least as costly in mana as itself. Any ability that makes your opponent’s blocking decisions more difficult is a good thing for you. This is a simple monster, and not one you’re trying to play a bunch of, but it’s solid and it can make things hard for your opponent in combat.
Electrify is a common instant for 3R that deals four damage to a target creature. First printed in Amonkhet last year, Electrify is bad because it only hits creatures and because it costs four mana. On the plus side, it’s instant-speed removal and because it’s a common, there’s a good chance you can have several copies in your sealed deck pool. Play all of them!
Guttersnipe is an uncommon 2/2 Goblin Shaman for 2R. Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell this creature deals two damage to each opponent. When this card first appeared in Return to Ravnica, it was immediately a hit in limited formats. Best in red/blue “spells” decks, Guttersnipe can give any red sealed deck or draft deck a way to deal a few extra points to its opponent. I would always play it unless, of course, my deck didn’t have any instants or sorceries. That would not be a very good deck in most cases.
Havoc Devils is a common 4/3 Devil for 2RR with trample. Red often gets a four-powered monster for 2RR. This one is very decent because it has trample. Red creatures are intended to attack, not block, and Havoc Devils is no different. Sometimes a creature with trample gives you some camouflage for your attack strategies. Opponents will be glad to block with a three-toughness creature in order to get Havoc Devils off the board even if they have to take a point of trample damage. They know you, the red player, could have a combat trick when you attack with Havoc Devils but, because this 4/3 trampler will be attacking most of the time, they may easily believe you are just attacking to push through damage. This makes your opponent somewhat more susceptible to blocking Havoc Devils when you do have a combat trick. This card feels like it wants to team up with green cards, and Giant Growth-type power-up effects, but Havoc Devils will make the cut in most of your red sealed decks with at least seven Mountains in them.
Hostile Minotaur is a common 3/3 Minotaur for 3R with haste. For four mana, a 3/3 is the shaky baseline for an acceptable creature. Is haste a big enough advantage to make this card more than barely playable? Yes. Yes it is. Without a bunch of abilities or stats, it’s easy to underrate a simple 3/3 creature with haste. Haste always unsettles limited formats. I’d love to have a couple of copies of Hostile Minotaur in my red sealed deck to help keep my opponents on their heels when it’s time for combat.
Thud is an uncommon sorcery for one red mana. When you cast Thud you sacrifice a creature. Thud deals damage equal to the sacrificed creature’s power to a target creature, player or planeswalker. The most normal thing that will happen is that you will attack with all your creatures and almost kill your opponent. You play Thud and sacrifice a powerful enough creature to finish off your opponent. Other scenarios are less sunny, because you have to two-for-one yourself in order to kill a specific creature or planeswalker on the other side of the board. You’ll be glad that you have this card available to you even though you’ll wish you had Fling, the old Stronghold instant that was recently reprinted in Amonkhet. Fling, which is slightly better than Thud in limited at least, has been printed seven different times, always as a common. Thud, for some reason, is an uncommon. I still plan to play it a great deal of the time.
Viashino Pyromancer is a common 2/1 Viashino Wizard for 1R. When this creature enters the battlefield it deals two damage to target player or planeswalker. This angry little guy may be constructed quality, so you can be sure that he’s good enough for your sealed decks. He will be more impressive in aggressive, low to the ground draft decks. You have to be careful with two-drops in sealed deck because they often don’t do enough to justify their spots in your deck. Viashno Pyromancer will only be really good in a fairly aggressive sealed deck.
Star-Crowned Stag is a common 3/3 Elk for 3W. When this creature attacks it taps a target creature that a defending player controls. You will play all the copies of this that you have in your pool. This is an easy to play common that helps you take over combat. You attack with the Stag, and hopefully some other creatures as well, and you tap your opponent’s best blocker. This is one of the best commons in the set for sealed deck play.
Daybreak Chaplain is a common 1/3 Human Cleric for 1W with lifelink. Elegant, seemingly unimpressive. She may look boring to you, but I see more than an earnest red-haired parishioner. I see a turn two play that wards off damage for multiple turns. The lifelink does more than you think on a small creature like this. Without lifelink, your opponent would send in their random 2/2 attacker bluffing a combat trick knowing that if you block with Daybreak Chaplain the two creatures will simply bounce off of each other. With lifelink, your opponent is less likely to send that same 2/2 into battle unless they really do have a combat trick.
Shield Mare is an uncommon 2/3 Horse for 1WW. Shield Mare can’t be blocked by red creatures and whenever this Horse enters the battlefield or becomes the target of a spell or ability controlled by an opponent you gain three life. Of course this card is best against decks with red creatures, but Shield Mare can pull its own weight even when your opponent isn’t red, as long as you only play it in predominately white decks. You rarely want to play a card because it can gain you life, but this one can gain you a LOT of life while it defends you or attacks through an opponent’s red forces.
Cavalry Drillmaster is a common 2/1 Human Knight for 1W. When this creature enters the battlefield it gives a target creature +2/+0 and first strike until end of turn. On turn two, this card matters more as simply a 2/1 on the battlefield, its ETB ability is not useful at that moment. Later in the game, however, as 2/1 creatures become less valuable to your strategy, this card becomes a powerful precombat trick to help propel one of your creatures into combat better prepared for victory.
Trusty Packbeast is a common 2/3 Beast for 2W that returns a target artifact card from your graveyard to your hand when it enters the battlefield. There are six artifact creatures and two other playable artifacts that you can use more than once if you have Trusty Packbeast in your deck. I think it’s a better than average play as long as you have two or more artifacts in your deck.
Hired Blade is a common 3/2 Human Assassin for 2B with flash. This is essentially a combat trick that can stick around to do more work in future turns. 2/3 would be better than 3/2, for my tastes. Hired Blade can give you a surprise blocker for an attacker with three toughness. I wish he was a surprise blocker for an attacker with two power that would survive combat. Flash has never made a card worse. It’s always great to be able to play a creature at instant speed.
Murder is an uncommon instant for 1BB that destroys a target creature. I hate to rate reprints, but it’s impossible not to take notice of black’s best instant-speed removal card. Just don’t try to splash for it. Murder was originally printed in Magic 2013 where it was just a common.
Ravenous Harpy is an uncommon 1/2 Harpy with flying for 2B. You can spend one mana of any color and sacrifice another creature to put a +1/+1 counter on the Harpy. This ability, along with the valuable evasion, makes Ravenous Harpy a very powerful card for sealed decks. Team this card with Act of Treason and do bad things to your opponent’s creatures. Remember, if it makes you Harpy, it can’t be that bad.
Vampire Sovereign is an uncommon 3/4 Vampire with flying for 3BB. When this creature enters the battlefield a target opponent loses three life and you gain three life. I don’t trust Vampires that don’t fly. Luckily, this one does. Lifelink or a fourth point of power would be better than the life point swing that triggers when this monster enters the battlefield, but it’s a good card for sealed deck just the way it is. I can see black Vampires teaming up with white, not quite as well as in last year’s Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation, but fairly well just the same.
Two-Headed Zombie is a common 4/2 Zombie for 3B with menace. Simple and useful. On the plus side, I believe there will be plenty of situations in the middle of games where your Two-Headed Zombie will trade with two blockers. The bad thing is paying four mana for a creature with two toughness with nothing more to recommend it than menace. Not much of a blocker, I don’t imagine we’re going to play multiple copies of this creature very often.
Sovereign’s Bite is a common sorcery for 1B. This spell makes a target player lose three life and makes you gain three life. Two mana for a life point swing of six. This is more of an aggressive card for booster drafts, but it could round out a fairly aggressive deck. Maybe something black and red for example.
As we’ve come to expect, the multicolored uncommon creatures are good signposts for each color pair, providing a good clue as to what that color pair is intended to do in this set. All of them are worth playing if you are in that particular color pair, but I only want to comment on a couple of really special ones.
Skyrider Patrol is an uncommon 2/3 Elf Scout with flying for 2GU. At the beginning of combat on your turn you may pay GU. When you do you put a +1/+1 counter on another target creature you control and that creature gains flying until end of turn. These two colors are full of playable commons and uncommons so I expect blue/green decks to be pretty good in this format. This card will make blue/green decks a lot better.
Poison-Tip Archer is an uncommon 2/3 Elf Archer for 2BG with reach and deathtouch. If that wasn’t good enough, this card also causes your opponent to lose a life each time another creature dies. Not just another one of your creatures, ANY creature other than Poison-Tip Archer.
Aerial Engineer is an uncommon 2/4 Human Artificer for 2WU. As long as you control an artifact this card gets +2/+0 and flying. Obviously you only play this card if you have artifacts in your deck. I believe I would play this card with as few as three artifacts. With an artifact in play on your side, Aerial Engineer is a powerful 4/4 flyer for four mana.
Brawl-Bash Ogre is an uncommon 3/3 Ogre Warrior for 2BR. When this card attacks you may sacrifice another creature to give Brawl-Bash Ogre +2/+2 until end of turn. Black and red decks will be more aggressive than other sealed decks. This guy fits right in. When you attack with Brawl-Bash Ogre and several other creatures, you’ll know which of your creatures you can afford to sacrifice to make Ogre bigger. Your opponent has to either put two creatures in front of the Ogre or suffer the consequences.
Diamond Mare is an uncommon 1/3 artifact creature Horse for two mana of any color. When this card enters the battlefield you choose a color. Whenever you cast a spell of the chosen color you gain one life. This useful early game blocker functionally replaces a set of five artifacts from Magic’s original set, artifacts that were reprinted in a few different shapes and forms over the years. The bottom line is this: it’s generally bad to play an artifact (or other card) that does nothing except help you gain an occasional point of life. Diamond Mare, on the other hand, incidentally gains life for you while fulfilling a perfectly legitimate defensive role in any deck. I would play multiple copies of this card if I have them.
Meteor Golem is an uncommon 3/3 artifact creature Golem for seven mana of any color. When this enters the battlefield it destroys a target nonland permanent an opponent controls. This is colorless removal that any deck can use to get rid of virtually any nonland card on the battlefield. The catch is that it costs seven mana. In Dominaria, this card would have been a big hit. I’m not sure if Core Set 2019 will play as deliberately as Dominaria. I’ll definitely play Meteor Golem this weekend whenever I have it available.
Gearsmith Guardian is a common 3/5 artifact creature Construct for five mana of any color. It gets +2/+0 as long as you control a blue creature. Fine, if unexciting, in any deck, it really shines in blue decks where it’s essentially a 5/5 for five generic mana. Blue happens to be my favorite color in the set so far. I think I’ll be playing blue cards and Gearsmith Guardian in lots of Core Set 2019 sealed decks.
Arcane Encyclopedia is an uncommon artifact for three mana of any color. You can spend three mana of any color and tap Arcane Encyclopedia to draw a card. This card is a slimmed down version of Magic’s first card-drawing artifact, Jayemdae Tome from Magic’s first set twenty-five years ago. As the years went by, Jayemdae Tome became less and less interesting with each reprinting. For 2018, Wizards of the Coast presents a Jayemdae Tome that costs three instead of four and which is activated for three mana instead of four. I believe Core Set 2019 will play slowly enough to allow you to get good use out of Arcane Encyclopedia. Especially for prerelease weekend, I believe this is a must-play card if you find it in your pool. I would only play one copy.
Skyscanner is a common 1/1 artifact creature Thopter with flying for three mana of any color. When it enters the battlefield you draw a card. I would love this card for two mana. I think you will still play it fairly often. It might be the twenty-third best card in any deck that isn’t playing an artifact strategy. Even when it’s the twenty-third best card of your deck it’s still performing a duty, giving you a cheap flyer that replaces itself when you play it.
After the First Analysis
This set looks like it’s leading us towards two-color decks that will only occasionally splash a third color. The cards, particularly the creatures, are a full notch less powerful than the commons and uncommons in Dominaria. Core Set 2019 might play a little bit faster than Dominaria with fewer non-rare, non-mythic payoffs for lengthy strategies.
I’ll go whatever direction the cards in my packs lead me, of course, but I see blue and green being very popular. I like the red cards a good deal more than the black and white cards. Even though black and white are my least favorite colors, I think these two colors are going to work together well as a color pair. I also want to pair black with red, nothing new about that idea. I think the risk of flaming out with an aggressive strategy is lower with this set than it was in Dominaria. In Dominaria, red as a main color was not often correct. I believe red can be a much stronger color as one of your main colors in Core Set 2019 sealed deck.
Good luck this weekend at your prerelease events.
Thanks for reading.
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