Planeswalkers and Dragons in M19
Core sets are back and our reviewers are raring to let you know what cards matter for which formats! Chrstian is taking a look at the core set in Standard over the next few weeks. Here, he tackles two cycles in M19 - Planeswalkers and Elder Dragons, and judges their merit in the upcoming Standard.
There are only two weeks left until the release of Magic 2019 and the spoiler is complete. So far, the upcoming set looks way more appealing than previous Core sets. Today, I want to talk about the two mythic rare cycles: planeswalkers and the Elder Dragons. Let's find out which of them are best and which might impact the upcoming Standard format.
The Cycle of Planeswalkers
Finally, we get back to a set where each color has its own planeswalker. In the history of planeswalkers, the best have some way to protect themselves, they can generate value, and tend to appear lower on the mana curve. These are the criteria that I use for evaluating planeswalkers in general, but there are obvious exceptions. For example, if a planeswalker is not powerful on its own, but can be huge in the right deck. Let's see which of the new planeswalkers could see play in Standard.
I have to say that I'm quite disappointed with Liliana. Obviously she is only playable in a dedicated zombie deck, because all her abilities rely on having zombies in play or graveyard, but even there she doesn't look very good. Her protection ability requires having a bunch of zombies in play to get rid of opposing creatures or at least bigger ones, which demands a lot of set-up. Otherwise, she won't impact the board immediately because her first ability basically does nothing. Her third ability can generate value, but not on the turn you play her, which means she has to survive at least one turn with three loyalty counters on it. Also, you either have to hit some zombies with her first ability or already have some zombies in your graveyard to get value with her -3 ability. This and the fact that she has to survive one turn until you can get value out of her is a bit too much to ask for. Overall, I do not think that Liliana will see any play in Standard, because even if there is a good zombie deck, which is already unrealistic, Liliana is not particularly good in that deck.
4) Vivien Reid
Since Vivien Reid costs five mana, she competes with Nissa, Vital Force and it's not really easy to say which one is better. First of all, I think both of them are rather good sideboard options, but not as good in the main deck. You want to main deck Vivien Reid if there is a metagame where her -3 ability can consistently kill something important, which does seem unlikely. Nissa is great in postboard games versus control decks and this is where Vivien Reid can also shine, because she can get rid of problematic flying creatures like Lyra Dawnbringer or enchantments like Seal Away. Even though it's great when you can kill something the moment she enters the battlefield, it's not like she is bad on an empty board either, because you can bury your opponent in card advantage with her first ability before finishing them with her ultimate. I can see the new green planeswalker as a 1-2 of in most green 75s.
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants is not great in general, but can be pretty good in the right deck. Ajani can shine in a green/white "go wide" deck, with powerful early drops. It can revive something like Shanna, Sisay's Legacy or create pressure by pumping two creatures. Craig Wescoe played a G/W Midrange deck at PT Dominaria and had decent success with it, but eventually the deck mostly disappeared from the metagame because it couldn't compete with the best decks in the format. Ajani gives you the opportunity to be more aggressive and functions more like a curve-topper, but this strategy has one archenemy: Goblin Chainwhirler. If Wizards refuses to ban Chainwhirler, I do not think this deck has a chance, because Ajani relies on playing early drops with one toughness such as LLanowar Elves to be good.
Even though Sarkhan has no way to protect itself or create card advantage, it's still the most interesting planeswalker of M19, because it is not easy to say if he is completely unplayable or just really strong. It is hard to imagine that there will be a competitive dragon deck in standard even if Wizards printed cards like Lathliss, Dragon Queen or Spit Flame, but maybe Sarkhan could enable it. Sarkhan's second ability is the reason why it can be very good, because you can play cards like Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner, Glorybringer, or Verix Bladewing one or two turns earlier. Sarkhan's first ability is also pretty good because drawing too many ramp spells or too many payoff cards has always been a problem for ramp decks and this way you can just discard your superfluous cards. If you can manage to activate Sarkhan four times, you can close out the game with his -7 ability and put four 5/5 dragons into play, which is a nice bonus, because even if your opponent handles your Dragons, they have eventually need to deal with Sarkhan too. I unfortunately doubt that there will be a good standard deck playing Sarkhan because such a deck would lose badly to any sort of aggressive red deck, but hopefully I'm wrong.
I already said that needs to be an artifact deck after the release of The Antiquies War, Zahid and Karn, but I was wrong. Now may be the last chance for a standard deck with an artifact synergy and Tezzeret looks quite strong there. Tezzeret comes into play with five loyalty, can protect itself with a chump blocker and can generate value pretty fast. By Turn 5, you should easily have two artifacts in play and can just draw two cards without investing loyalty counters. His +1 Ability is still useful for the reasons mentioned above but I think most of the time, you'll just use the second ability to win the game with card advantage. This is why I don't think you'll use his ultimate very often. Tezzeret should really only be played in artifact decks though, as Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is a strictly better card if you can't enable his draw-two effect. I think Tezzeret is the best planeswalker in this set if an appropriately competitive artifact deck appears.
All in all, none of the new planeswalkers completely stand out for me because most of them are more or less build arounds and it is hard to say if a Zombie, Dragon, or an Artifact Deck will exist in competitive standard. My initial guess is not, but we will see.
The Cycle of Elder Dragons
There is also another major cycle in M19, involving Elder Dragons. All of them are tricolor and some of them look really strong. We will see if the Elder Dragons are maybe the new Titans or Gearhulks.
The Jund Dragon doesn't look very good to me. If you spend six mana in standard, you want an immediate reward, otherwise your opponent will severely punish you with removal like Unlicensed Disintegration or Vraska's Contempt. Another problem is that even when it survives, it has to attack to get value, which is something you cannot always do – As an example, if you think your opponent is sitting on a Seal Away or Settle the Wreckage, you're not particularly likely to swing with your hefty six mana creature. Its ability is good, no question, but not a game-winning play either. In Standard, there are also other 6-drop options for big flyers such as Demonlord Belzenlok, which gives you value immediately. I highly doubt that this Elder Dragon will see any play in Standard.
The Bant Dragon has great stats: 3/5 Flying Vigilance is really good. Especially having 5 toughness is just very important right now to block threats like Heart of Kiran or Rekindling Phoenix, which is the one of the reasons why Aethersphere Harvester is a good card, too. It's two abilities rewards you for playing creatures with Defender in your deck, but usually you don't want to put Walls in your deck. There is no Wall of Omen in the format and you definitely don't want to put bad cards with Defender in your deck just to make Arcades better. Overall, I think the dragon is barely playable unless its stats are good enough, which might actually be the case.
If you are wondering how good the Naya Dragon is, you just have to compare it with Carnage Tyrant. The big Dino from Ixalan has 1 power more, can't be countered and has unconditional hexproof, whereas Palladia-Mors has Flying and Vigilance, but can be killed after it attacks or blocks. I think against decks which don't play counterspells, Palladia-Mors is mostly better than Carnage Tyrant, because Vigilance and especially Flying are particularly strong. Even though it is vulnerable after it deals damage, it dodges commonly played removal spells like Seal Away or Cast Down. Getting Palladia into play early could be key, since the opponent will have to leave mana open to kill it, which gives offers the possibility of securing some advantage by playing around their removal spell and keeping their mana dedicated to that clutch removal spell. The power level of Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner is where it needs to be, so the only question is whether there is a decent Naya deck in Standard for her.
The Esper Dragon looks like a perfect finisher for control. With flash, you can eat an attacker or cast it on end of turn after leaving counter-mana up. It can't be countered and basically has hexproof, which is devastating for opposing control decks. If they want to kill it, you can just discard a card and if they want to kill it in response to the trigger, you can just discard another card. Only cards like Doomfall or Settle the Wreckage can get rid of it, but you can just counter these spells. It only needs three hits to kill your opponent and it can kill opposing planeswalkers easily. Esper Control is already a pretty good Standard deck and it is interesting to think about potential changes to the deck resulting from the Esper Elder Dragon. Maybe The Scarab God will be cut because the Dragon is a more resilient threat. I am pretty convinced that Esper Control will still be a good deck after the release of M19 and Chromium, the Mutable definitely fits here pretty well.
Nicol Bolas is back. This time as a dragon which can flip into a planeswalker. A 4/4 flying creature which forces the opponent to discard a card when it enters the battlefield is already a decent card for standard. It synergizes with Liliana, Death's Majesty, The Eldest Reborn, and The Scarab God and it's safe from Glorybringer and Cast Down. I think even without the ability to transform, Nicol Bolas could see play in Standard. For seven mana, it transforms into a powerful planeswalker with four good abilities and many loyalty counters. Obviously seven mana is a lot, but if you look at the ability as a bonus which can just win you the game, then it becomes really good. Overall I think Nicol Bolas, the Ravager could be the best card out of M19 and it will definitely see play, especially after the rotation. With Ravnica coming back in October, we will get some strong Dimir and Rackdos cards too and then Nicol Bolas could be everywhere.
I like the Elder Dragons much more than the planeswalkers in this set. Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and Chromium, the Mutable should definitely see play in standard while Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner and Arcades, the Strategist could also become relevant.
I think Wizards did a great job with M19. There are a lot of interesting cards for multiple formats. My set review just started by looking at the planeswalkers and Elder Dragons. Next time, I'll write about the most powerful cards in M19 for standard.
Thanks for reading
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