Brewing with Core Set 2019

Pierre Dagen

Last week, everyone expected 《Goblin Chainwhirler》 to be banned. But in the light of US Nationals, where the red menace was clearly kept in check, Wizards decided to let it be. Whether this decision was good or bad I do not know, but what I do know is that I was growing a little tired of the standard format.

Luckily, Core Set 2019 has clearly been designed not as a “classic” core set, but more as an origin-like set that has the potential for shaking up things. It does push at least 4 powerful new decks that I think are completely reasonable:

  1. Mono-Black Zombies
  2. Mono-White Monument
  3. Blue-Black Gift
  4. A Whole Range of 《Nicol Bolas, the Ravager》 Decks

Instead of focusing on one build, and going super far in depth about it even though we have very little metagame data to do that, I decided I’d give you a tour of those 4 options and why I like them.

Mono-Black Zombies

Mono-Black Zombies is a very simple deck to find in many ways: it pretty much builds itself with the new set, the manabase is easy as pie, and we already now it will be decent versus red decks since it was used as the solution for Ranumap Red a year ago at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation.

Graveyard MarshalDeath BaronLiliana, Untouched by Death

The new additions are 《Graveyard Marshal》, 《Death Baron》 and to a lesser extent 《Liliana, Untouched by Death》. The general strategy is to spam zombies on the battlefield, and use all the lord effects available to make sure those zombies will beat whatever is standing in front of them through sheer numbers. The deck lost a little bit of resilience since 《Relentless Dead》 is no more, but it still has 《Dread Wanderer》 for staying power.

Here is one of the early succeeding builds:

There are a few things that I think this list does better than most:

Metallic MimicScrapheap Scrounger

It plays only 1 《Metallic Mimic》 in favor of 4 《Scrapheap Scrounger》: the sole issue with the curve is that 《Graveyard Marshal》 is the only good 2-drop unless you want to splash white (which you do not), so you have to find something. 《Metallic Mimic》 looks like the more natural option, but I believe it is too much of a liability in the face of 《Goblin Chainwhirler》.

Also, you do not want to overload on lord effects since having too many forces you to commit a lot to the board and walk right into sweeper: 《Scrapheap Scrounger》 is definitely the least powerful option, but it does make your deck less linear and harder to attack. The only case where I would like to change things up is if Zombies becomes a bigger part of the metagame, since 《Mimic》 is miles ahead in the mirror.

Fatal PushVraska's ContemptCast Down

It plays the right, counter-intuitive removals. In most aggro decks, you want cheap removal to clear the way for your beaters. But here, your beaters are supposed to become big enough to clear the way for themselves. What could stop you, though, is a 《Hazoret the Fervent》, so your removal should target him: playing 2 《Vraska's Contempt》 looks weird, but feels right to me.

Mono-White Monument

Oketra's Monument

Mono-White Monument had a very short time in the light at the very beginning of the pro season (Pro Tour Ixalan in Albuquerque), and even then I think it was pretty bad. It was inspired from a much older version that used 《Bygone Bishop》 in conjunction with 《Oketra's Monument》 in order to keep casting creatures and generating value. That deck struggled a little against Ranumap Red, but it was very powerful for a while.

Mentor of the Meek

《Mentor of the Meek》 is extremely reminiscent of 《Bygone Bishop》, except it actually works better with 《Oketra's Monument》. 《Militia Bugler》 also fits the deck nicely, resulting in a weird deck that looks a little bit like an aggressive wheeny white deck but actually creates a ton of value can simply assemble unbeatable boards if need be.

Remorseful ClericSuncleanser

《Remorseful Cleric》 and 《Suncleanser》 are awkward main deck cards: the idea behind them is that you do not really care which creature you cast as long as they trigger 《Mentor of the Meek》 and 《Oketra's Monument》, so you might as well be pre-sideboarded with hatebears. While that has some merit, I would feel really uncomfortable playing those cards main deck against an opponent who knows what’s going and kills my 《Mentor》 at sight, so something like 《Adanto Vanguard》 might be worth a try.

Blue-Black Gift

Right before Core Set 2019 kicked in, Blue-White 《God-Pharaoh's Gift》 was all the rage and was slowly positioning itself as one of the key contenders in Sandard. The strategy remains sound, but a single new card might make it move towards black : 《Stitcher's Supplier》.

Stitcher's Supplier

This is basically a better 《Minister of Inquiries》, which also combos nicely with 《Walking Ballista》 to activate a 《Gate to the Afterlife》.

I love how this deck behaves: it does give up a little bit of the combo part (in the sense that your 《GPG》 provide a lot of value, but no something as insanely powerful as 《Angel of Invention》), but in exchange it gains a ton of staying power, the ability to win games without even comboing and a ton of efficient interaction.

Kitesail FreebooterRavenous ChupacabraHostage Taker

《Kitesail Freebooter》, 《Ravenous Chupacabra》 and 《Hostage Taker》 means that in a lot of games, you will have all the time in the world set things up. It also makes it harder to sideboard against you, because overloading on negates (that are excellent against the UW version) could easily result in a quick loss against your 30(!) creatures deck.

Gifted Aetherborn

The one thing I do miss in the ability to reanimate a lifelinker, and if Mono-Red remains popular, I’d love to squeeze in 2 or 3 《Gifted Aetherborn》 to make sure my first 《GPG》 trigger puts me outside of burn reach.

A Whole Range of 《Nicol Bolas, the Ravager》 Decks

Nicol Bolas, the RavagerNicol Bolas, the Arisen

《Nicol Bolas, the Ravager》 is an amazing card. It provides value, aggression, and can also transform into an unbeatable late-game threat.

Hazoret the FerventHostage TakerGonti, Lord of Luxury

Except we already have plenty of amazing cards at 4 mana if the Grixis combination: 《Hazoret the Fervent》, 《Chandra, Torch of Defiance》, 《Rekindling Phoenix》, 《Hostage Taker》, 《Ravenous Chupacabra》 and 《Gonti, Lord of Luxury》 all fight for those spots.

I do not think you can just “try” 《Bolas》 instead in an existing deck, because in order for 《Bolas》 to give its full potential, you need a true midrange deck: RB is too aggressive, and UB is a little bit to slow, making 《Chupacabra》 a more logic choice.

That ability to transition from aggro to control, while retaining a good deal of late-game power, was what made Temur Energy so damn good earlier this year, so it is only logical to turn back to the same shell, except we cut green as a whole since most green energy cards have been banned anyway. Hence, this list that I think is the best first step towards breaking 《Nicol Bolas》:

This is, I think, a very good starting point. Keep in mind that you have access to most of the best cards in Standard with this shell, and that your strategy is insanely flexible, so there is definitely room to evolve the deck. But I would keep the general “energy shell”, as well as 《Bolas》 and the full set of 《Vraska's Contempt》 unless something crazy happens.

Vraska's ContemptThe Eldest Reborn

What I might want to move away from are the 3 《Magma Spray》, which seem like an overcommitment. I love 《Harnessed Lightning》 to death and would happily run 4, and I also believe that the 3rd 《The Scarab God》 is one too many. I would love to run 《The Eldest Reborn》 instead, which has a perfect interaction with 《Bolas》 as a one-two punch that should destroy any midrange mirror.

Until next time,

Pierre Dagen

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