Rotation Grief: M19 (Part 2)
- Gianluca Aicardi
With the release of Throne of Eldraine on October 4, the dreaded/craved yearly rotation will kick in, turning the current Standard pool from its eight-set peak to its five-set nadir. Meanwhile, we're having a look at the cards that we'll miss the most (or not), starting from those contained in the core set that bears this year's name.
The return of the core sets last year established unequivocally two main things about them. The first is that they're a whole different thing compared to the regular, "expert-level" expansions, as emphasized by the words "core set" being now right there in their name to better set them apart (they're the "one" in the Three-and-One Model). The second is that the introductory elements aimed at new players are not all that there is to the core sets; in fact, they mostly populate the common and uncommon portion of their card pool, with rares and mythic rares free to fill up creative or mechanical gaps, address the need of the metagame, or even house high-demand reprints. In this second part of our Core Set 2019 two-part debriefing, we celebrate its job that's coming to an end for red, green, multicolored and colorless cards too. Part 1 with the white, blue and black examinations is here.
M19 Red Losses
Alpine Moon: This sleek, single-mana answer to problematic lands didn't enjoy in Standard the same respect it's having in Modern, but it occasionally came up. With Blood Sun and Damping Sphere also leaving the format, we might need a new general solution to Field of the Dead and Lotus Field issues sooner rather than later. Grief Factor: 3/10.
Banefire: This classic, potentially uncounterable Fireball variant wasn't exactly played everywhere, but where it was, it would usually leave a mark. Fry is now a faster way to get rid of white and/or blue wincons a la Teferi, Hero of Dominaria past a countermagic shield, but I feel like Banefire is leaving Standard right when it might have had a role to play in Nissa, Who Shakes the World, Leyline of Abundance and/or Elemental ramp decks. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Demanding Dragon: There will always be some big, dumb Dragon or other in any given Standard meta, and this guy definitely wasn't Glorybringer, or even Skarrgan Hellkite, but it was a solid five-drop nonetheless. It won't be missed by many, but it will be missed by some. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Goblin Instigator: There goes a key two-drop for a Standard Goblin tribal deck that never really materialized (the concurrent loss of trashy lord Goblin Trashmaster is mostly irrelevant in that regard). More to the point, the Instigator would also recently show up in Cavalcade of Calamity builds, although it seems fairly replaceable there. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Guttersnipe: Monored decks in this Standard cycle prioritized cards that are able to generate an immediate impact, either on the battlefield, on our hand, or on the opponent's life total, so they didn't really have a need for this powerful damage enhancer. Only builds based around Electrostatic Field held Guttersnipe to higher consideration, and they're probably bound to die down upon his exit. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Lightning Strike: And that's it, no more unconditional two-mana Lightning Bolt for anybody. Short of an imminent reprint of actual Lightning Bolt, this will be a difficult card to replace, especially because it wasn't just the exclusive tool of monored. On the plus side, at least Shock will still be around in M20 Standard. Grief Factor: 10/10.
Sarkhan, Fireblood: Dragon tribal decks were tier-three at best, but very enjoyable. This Sarkhan was one of their components, even if lately he wasn't seeing too much play there either. With Dragon's Hoard and Lathliss, Dragon Queen also leaving Standard, this minor archetype might have definitely reached its end for the time being. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Sarkhan's Unsealing: There were a few larger-than-life red spells in M19, but while things like Apex of Power never really broke through the casual ceiling, Unsealing was at the very least close to it. Unfortunately, this very Timmy strategy will never get the chance to really prove itself now that it could go Jund for the explosive interaction with M20's Rotting Regisaur. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Tormenting Voice: Very bad news for Arclight Phoenix decks and reanimator strategies in general, as they've just lost a crucial enabler. There's always going to be some looting in blue and some rummaging in red, but this one was a particularly efficient example of the latter. We can maintain hope for a further reprint, given that Tormenting Voice, despite being originally tied into Sarkhan's story from Khans of Tarkir block, has had enough of a neutral connotation to allow for several comebacks, from Shadows over Innistrad to Amonkhet – lots of instances of hearing voices in one's head, and not necessarily Ugin's. Grief Factor: 9/10.
Viashino Pyromancer: One of the foundations of current RDW in Standard is going away. Considering he was already around in monored during the Hazoret the Fervent era (competing with Earthshaker Khenra for a slot), this guy has had a truly amazing career. Time to rest now, Viashino Pyromancer. We salute you. Grief Factor: 10/10.
M19 Green Losses
Druid of the Cowl: This reprint from Aether Revolt leaves the two-drop mana dork duties in the capable hands of her druidic colleagues Incubation Druid, Paradise Druid and Leafkin Druid. Compared to those, she had little to offer – just the combination of one point of power and three of toughness in the same body. It wasn't much, but it was something. Grief Factor: 3/10.
Dryad Greenseeker: Another two-drop that wasn't played too much, despite its potential for card advantage. The explore creatures outclassing its ability didn't exactly help. Grief Factor: 2/10.
Elvish Clancaller: This wasn't the best Elf lord ever (though it might be the one with the prettiest artwork), but still had some applications as a mana sink in big ramp decks. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Elvish Rejuvenator: The product of an overall attempt to reduce the number of times the players are required to shuffle their decks (which is time-consuming in paper Magic), the Rejuvenator now faces zero relevance, hence the oblivion, in the Eternal formats, where cards like Wood Elves exist, yet has played a minor but effective role in Standard as a midrange ramp enabler for multicolored decks, especially those who cared about ETB triggers. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Gigantosaurus: Such a Timmy card, so irremediably flawed by the lack of any evasion whatsoever. Still, many monogreen enthusiasts enjoyed trying to break this big boy in a semi-casual way (probably involving Blanchwood Armor and/or Thud – which are also rotating out, by the way). Grief Factor: 6/10.
Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma: The first ever legendary Bear, created by popular demand, constantly felt like she was on the brink of greatness, yet she never achieved that imagined potential, mostly due to her suboptimal toughness. We may find solace in thinking that this ferocious (if frail) mama bear is going to live on as a Commander card. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Llanowar Elves: The original mana dork wasn't even part of Core Set 2019's main pool, it just appeared in one of the associated Welcome Decks. Of course, it also had just been reprinted in Dominaria, which will rotate at the same time as M19, so that random inclusion didn't extend its Standard life at all, it just gave us two concurrent Llanowar Elves versions. Grief Factor: 10/10.
Pelakka Wurm: There weren't that many applications for this big guy (mostly reanimator and similar shenanigans), but having access to its massive lifegain, just in case, was a comforting thought. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Reclamation Sage: The very existence of Thrashing Brontodon (which, luckily, is extending its Standard career into M20) has made Reclamation Sage kind of unnecessary. The ETB trigger, as opposed to the sacrifice, could factor in at times, but the dino's superior body and time-delayed activation ruled in favor of the bigger dude. This is a bit unfair, as the Sage was the culmination of a long and glorious line of monogreen hatebears, finally allowed to hose both artifacts and enchantments at once. Grief Factor: 3/10.
Runic Armasaur: It might seem like an odd inclusion, but this guy had amazing defensive stats for a three-drop and only missed a few good enablers to become relevant. Imagine it within a fetch land environment! Grief Factor: 2/10.
Scapeshift: This insanely powerful combo-maker that definitely belongs in the Eternal formats lay dormant throughout most of its stay in Standard; then, as soon as it's found its match in Field of the Dead (and, to a lesser extent, Dread Presence), it was time to leave. It's probably for the best. Grief Factor: 9/10.
Thorn Lieutenant: A versatile player, this successful two-drop has been able to get on the board quickly, face early attackers, replace itself to some degree, and provide a late-game mana sink. It will be missed. Grief Factor: 8/10.
Vine Mare: Her time in the limelight was already over after her slots in Stompy decks had been hijacked by four-drops better equipped to withstand combat – mostly, Nullhide Ferox, which plays a similar role. Unconditional hexproof is still a neat keyword to sport, though. Plus, it never really got to leverage the fact that she's an Elemental, something that has become pretty significant post-M20. Grief Factor: 7/10.
Vivien Reid: The newest green sensation was making her debut here with a very commanding and well-balanced planeswalker form, a combination of card advantage and targeted removal. Green-based decks adopted her immediately and never entirely let her go, even when Nissa, Who Shakes the World weaponized the five-drop slots in a completely different, more explosive way. Compared to Nissa, Vivien Reid played more like a catch-all, multi-purpose tool: grab more creatures, destroy those pesky flyers, take those scary enchantments off the battlefield (there weren't too many relevant artifacts in her time), and work towards a game-winning ultimate. Grief Factor: 9/10.
M19 Multicolored Losses
Arcades, the Strategist: The Elder Dragons made up the flashiest cycle in Core Set 2019. The two you'll see mentioned below saw a lot of play; Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner and Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire saw essentially none; and then there was Arcades, a build-around card that gave birth to its own "defender matters" archetype, one that wasn't exactly super-competitive (even with the support of High Alert), but it sure was fun. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Chromium, the Mutable: Back when Esper still cared about including a straightforward wincon, Chromium was the perfect fit – uncounterable, played at instant speed, hard to kill. If he doesn't leave behind as much grief as one might otherwise expect, it's primarily due to the creature-less evolution of the Esper builds, and secondarily to the competition of Nezahal, Primal Tide. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Enigma Drake: The older and lesser of the two Drakes featured in Izzet Phoenix decks, Enigma Drake wasn't as crucial as Crackling Drake (no free draw, no exile interaction), but still did its fair share of the job, and it's been doing it since Amonkhet. Goodbye, little one. You haven't been thanked enough. Grief Factor: 8/10.
Heroic Reinforcements: Nobody would blame you for thinking this Boros card came from a Ravnica set. It had already been sort of phased out by now – it was always slightly too expensive to satisfy every aggro pilot's taste – but it was a powerful spell, capable of winning many a game on the spot. Grief Factor: 7/10.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager // Nicol Bolas, the Arisen: The centerpiece of all Grixis decks, of both the control and midrange flavors, is sadly rotating out, leaving a Bolas-shaped hole that the five-drop Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God won't probably be able to fill on his own. Bolas is beaten, once again. Grief Factor: 9/10.
M19 Colorless Losses
Arcane Encyclopedia: Look, this M19 original creation wasn't a major meta player or anything – probably it wasn't even a meta player at all – but there have been more convoluted ways in the game to repeatedly draw a card. Grief Factor: 2/10.
Chaos Wand: I kept seeing this one included in Karn, the Great Creator's wishboards, but I never once see someone actually bringing it in. The effect always seemed very narrow, too random and kind of expensive to me. But I guess it had its fans. Grief Factor: 1/10.
Crucible of Worlds: Another power card that happened to make a new passage in Standard mostly for reprinting purposes. Along the road, it saw some good-not-great interactions with Field of Ruin and Blast Zone. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Diamond Mare: This little horsey looks unassuming enough, but she represented a solid sideboard option for lifegaining that every color had access to. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Dragon's Hoard: The true engine of the fairly popular, mostly casual Dragon tribal deck. Without it, that archetype will probably just cease to exist. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Fountain of Renewal: A lifegain enabler for Ajani's Pridemate decks and the likes; by now, it has probably been outclassed by more flexible options, but it still was one of the most resilient ones. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Magistrate's Scepter: Core Set 2019 brought to Standard (and Modern!) this old combo card from Mercadian Masques. It has been possible to achieve infinite turns at several points during the Scepter's latest Standard tenure (the first time even before the last rotation, when Winding Constrictor was still around; more recently with cards like Karn's Bastion and Voltaic Servant), but of course all the methods to get there have been janky as hell. Grief Factor: 3/10.
Transmogrifying Wand: Another one from Karn, the Great Creator greatest wishboard hits, this wand at least was useful as surrogate creature removal for a reasonable cost – and with awesome flavor, though it was never too clear why you had to turn your enemies into sturdy oxen, of all animals. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Reliquary Tower: An old classic and a Commander staple, the best friend of the "draw your entire deck" strategies. Not entirely necessary, but not bad to have available either. Grief Factor: 4/10.
IN THE NEXT INSTALLMENT: Core Sets no more; it's time to look into the departure of this Standard cycle's regular expansions, starting with the savage Ixalan and its many, beloved tribes.
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