Drums rat-a-tat-tat and trumpets blare in a fanfare heralding the return of core sets. Core Set 2019 is the first of these introductory products to be released since Magic Origins in 2015. These booster releases are designed to be an on-ramp for newer Magic: The Gathering players, but that doesn't mean they don't have value to experienced members of the Magic community.
One of the main ways enfranchised players can enjoy Core Set 2019 is through limited play. Sealed deck and drafting test skills that new players haven't developed yet. While this format isn't going to be as deep as Dominaria, there looks to be a variety of archetypes and build-around cards to experiment with.
Today's article is going to examine the ten two-color archetypes that were designed into this set. Whether you're new to the world of limited Magic or looking to get a strategic head start before the prerelease on July 7th or 8th, there are insights to gain into this format. Since limited decks usually only contain a few rares, I'm going to focus on commons and uncommons today. They make up the bulk of your deck, so they're the cards you should pay the most attention to.
Like most recent sets, Core Set 2019 has a cycle of ten multicolor uncommons that act as signposts for limited archetypes. These cards are usually costed at a good rate and have mechanical signals about what other cards to play with them. Aerial Engineer is the White/Blue signpost uncommon, and this archetype wants you to control some artifacts. Unlike the historic decks from Dominaria, which generally wanted you to cast multiple artifacts, the strategy in this set mostly just wants to check that you are controlling one artifact permanent.
There are some strong payoffs for having an artifact, and they're cards you want to focus on if you're drafting or sorting through a sealed pool. At common, Scholar of Stars draws you a card when it enters the battlefield when you control an artifact, leaving you neutral on card advantage. It's 3/2 body is a little weak for four mana, so you'll almost never play it unless you have artifacts. The uncommon payoffs are ever better. Aerial Engineer is an efficiently-costed beater. Aethershield Artificer lets an artifact creature rumble into combat with impunity. Skilled Animator can turn something as mundane as a Manalith into a 5/5 monster that dominates the board.
The real trick is finding artifacts that you actually want to play. The absolute best card for this at common is Aviation Pioneer. The Thopter token it creates can pick away at your opponent's life total while the Human body can block on the ground. Skyscanner is another flying body that also replaces itself. These cards may be common, but they're also quite good. Don't expect to wheel them often in draft. Gearsmith Guardian is playable if you can easily make it a 5/5 for five mana, but most of the common artifacts in this set are underwhelming. There are better options at uncommon in Gargoyle Sentinel and Suspicious Bookcase. Both these uncommons can help push damage to close out a game or overtake a stalled board.
It's also important to remember that archetypes aren't the end-all-be-all of limited decks. You can play White/Blue without artifact synergies. Sometimes you'll have to abandon plans if your synergies don't work out. In those situations, White and Blue still have the classic fliers deck. Play defensive creatures, pack some removal, and fly over your opponent's creatures to victory.
For Blue/Black, slow and steady wins the race. This archetype is all about taking baby steps towards victory through card advantage, controlling spells, and an accumulation of enter-the-battlefield effects. These concepts are embodied in Psychic Symbiont, a card capable of crushing your opponent's hopes of climbing back into a game. A 3/3 flier can potentially end games on its own, and you'll remain at card parity when you cast it since you draw a card. Then, in some games, you'll make your opponent discard a card too. Because this creature costs six mana, your opponent is likely to have only one card in their hand when you cast it. That increases your chance of hitting something like a sorcery-speed removal spell or bomb creature. Those moments will feel fantastic.
Until that time comes, however, you need to not die. Removal spells are important here, and these colors have some fantastic options. Essence Scatter is almost always playable in limited since creatures are so important in a game of Magic. Don't be afraid to fire it off whenever you have two mana open. Better to use it than wait and never get a chance. Disperse is a great answer at common, and Exclusion Mage can bide time while also giving you a blocker. Black's removal is outstanding at uncommon, containing both Murder and Nightmare's Thirst. The latter costs only a single mana, but gaining life is relatively easy in this format. Lich's Caress is at common, and it's a five-mana sorcery, but it will do. Don't play too many if the format is fast.
This strategy also wants lots of enter-the-battlefield abilities. I already mentioned Exclusion Mage, but Skeleton Archer is another creature that doubles as removal. You can pick of X/1s, snipe creatures after combat, or deal a final blow to your opponent. The 3/3 body is also great at attacking or blocking. Omenspeaker sets up your draws, Salvager of Secrets brings your removal spells back, and Fell Specter keeps you ahead on cards. In a slower deck like Blue/Black, you can get additional value out of these kinds of creatures by bringing them back from the dead. Macabre Waltz, Abnormal Endurance, and Rise from the Grave are strong value plays that synergize well with creatures with enter-the-battlefield abilities.
Bringing things back from the dead is Black's thing in this set, so the Black/Red archetype looks to take advantage of going in the other direction. When you're running down an aggressive path to victory, every creature is a resource that can be flung at an enemy's face. Brawl-Bash Ogre exemplifies this strategy. A 3/3 menace body is solid, if a little underwhelming for four mana on a gold creature. But sac a creature when it attacks and you've got a 5/5 beater that can probably take down the two blockers your opponent will need to dedicate to it. If not, they lose a quarter of their life total. Ouch.
The sacrifice payoffs appear at uncommon, so don't expect to get too many (You won't need them anyway.) The main creature for this archetype is Ravenous Harpy, which can grow and fly over defenses to smash in for tons of damage. There will be games where your opponent is just dead because you can sacrifice your whole board for one big strike. Blood Divination and Thud are sorceries that provide a steep mana discount for their effects. These sacrifice outlets are especially powerful if your opponent has removal like Luminous Bonds or Dwindle, as you can just sacrifice those creatures for your benefit. Keep that in mind when playing against White and Blue decks.
The trick with this archetype is to find ways to negate the card disadvantage inherent in sacrificing your own creatures. At common, Doomed Dissenter and Goblin Instigator provide tokens to give you surplus bodies. Dragon Egg is especially good since it gives you a flier after you sacrifice it. The single best card for this strategy, however, is Reassembling Skeleton. It never stays dead in your graveyard, so you'll always have an expendable body. Finally, Act of Treason is back to let you steal an opponent's creature to sacrifice.
Like Blue/Black, reanimation cards are extra powerful in this archetype. Macabre Waltz, Abnormal Endurance, and Gravedigger give you tremendous value when combined with your sacrifice outlets. If you have the ability to loop creatures between life and death like this, Skyscanner will be one of your best friends. It replaces itself whenever it enters the battlefield, so you can greatly diminish the damage to your own card advantage.
I am curious, however, if there's a slower deck in these colors. Black has a lot of controlling elements, while Red has some beefy Dragons to ramp into. It seems likely that there are drafts and sealed pools that could support a bigger Black/Red deck with a stronger endgame.
Red/Green: Dragon Ramp
Speaking of Dragons, they are a tribe that is strongly supported in Core Set 2019. They also tend to cost five or more mana, so Red Dragons get paired with Green ramp for this archetype. Draconic Disciple ramps (and fixes!) your mana so that you can play your fire-breathing tyrants earlier enough to make an impact on the game. Then, when you have a bunch of mana and don't need a mana dork anymore, you can cash it in for a 5/5 Dragon token. This card is also what makes this archetype the one most likely to be able to play one of the mythic rare Elder Dragons (The ones that you can splash for in this color pair are Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire and Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner.) I recommend doing that if you're lucky.
The trick with Dragons is that they almost never appear at lower rarities. In this set, there are only three at common and uncommon, so let's talk about them first. Sparktongue Dragon is the only common tribal payoff, but it's a great one. A 3/3 flier for five mana is fine on its own, and getting to shoot down a blocker or finish your opponent if you hit eight mana is a big advantage. Don't fall into the trap of always waiting, however. Play this Dragon for five mana if you can. At uncommon are Dragon Egg and Volcanic Dragon. The Egg is a great "rattlesnake" card, dissuading attacks so you don't get the baby that hatches. Volcanic Dragon will steal games, making it a powerful card for any Red deck. You'll always play at least one in Red/Green.
I know I said I'd focus on commons and uncommons in this article, but some of the best Dragon-tribal payoffs are at rare. Demanding Dragon and Lathliss, Dragon Queen are outright bombs. Spit Flame is a powerful removal spell even if you don't have any Dragons, so the times when you get to bring it back in limited are going to feel awesome. Finally, Dragon's Hoard is the ramp and mana fixing this archetype wants. It also can draw you at least one card, so there's not a whole lot of downside to playing one if you have Dragons in your deck.
Getting your mana is the other important factor. Green has plenty of options for this: Druid of the Cowl and Elvish Rejuvenator at common and Gift of Paradise at uncommon. Also don't forget Manalith. Pair these with Red's removal like Shock and Electrify to keep the board clear until you figure out how to train your Dragons.
But here's the truth: you won't always have enough Dragons for your payoffs. Thankfully, Green has plenty of huge creatures to fill in. Colossal Dreadmaw, Vigilant Baloth, and Ghastbark Twins are plenty capable of winning games on their own.
And now we get to the most controversial archetype in the set. Putting Auras on your own creatures is not good limited Magic. If your creature dies, your opponent will always be on the winning side of card advantage. Even bounce spells, of which Blue has two at common, will permanently remove some of your cards. Trying to build up Auras is a huge risk that usually doesn't pay off.
But, if you're going to give this archetype a shot, here are the cards you must look for. Let's start with the signpost uncommon, Satyr Enchanter. This creature negates the potential card disadvantage of Auras by drawing you cards to replace them. This can still go wrong; close to half the time, you're going to replace your spell with a land. You can also try to mitigate the disadvantage with Druid of Horns, which builds your board as you load it up with Auras. Talons of Wildwood can come back from your graveyard, but its impact is so small that it's usually not worth the mana investment. Your best offensive Auras are Blanchwood Armor, which can make a creature huge, and Knightly Valor, which gives you a bonus token. The shining star of this archetype is Luminous Bonds, White's best common removal spell which you'll play anyway.
Even if you get enough Auras and enough of the payoffs, the one card you'll want to see more than any other is Vine Mare. Like Cold-Water Snapper in Dominaria this hexproof creature can carry Auras all day and night without having to worry about your opponent's removal spells. Play enough Core Set 2019 limited and you'll lose to an enchanted Vinemare at some point.
If you want your games of Magic to be built on something more reliable than the hope that your opponent doesn't have a removal spell, just build a Green/White deck with a good creature curve and a few removal spells/combat tricks. In limited, just playing a two-drop into a three-drop into a four-drop is an underrated line to victory. These colors have the best creatures for their mana costs at common and uncommon, so don't feel bad if your Green/White deck doesn't have a theme to build around. That just means your theme is beating down and winning games of Magic.
Gaining life is next to useless when it's the only thing a card does. But when you just tack lifegain onto an effect you already want and leverage payoffs for gaining life, you solidify a limited archetype. The playstyle of this archetype is easy to parse from Regal Bloodlord. We have an evasive card with defensive stats and an ability that gets better the longer the game lasts (though you don't need to create many Bats to succeed with this card). Remember that the Bloodlord triggers on each end step, not just your own, so you get a Bat if you gained life during your opponent's turn too. This is a single card that can spawn an entire army, making it a must-kill for your opponent.
While lifegain is fine in general since it can help you win races and otherwise overcome your opponent's offensive aspirations. There are also some frighteningly powerful payoff cards at uncommon. The first is Ajani's Pridemate. Its base value is a 2/2 for two mana, which is normally fine in core set limited. But even just one instance of lifegain turns it into an undercosted threat. If not answered immediately, it's not absurd to expect to be attacking with a 5/5 Pridemate that you only invested two mana into. Remember that it triggers every time you gain life, so two lifegain events in one turn will give it two +1/+1 counters. The other payoff card is Nightmare's Thirst, a one-mana removal spell that can destroy most creatures after gaining only two or three life. It's the most mana-efficient removal spell in the format, so use it to cast multiple spells in a turn and out-tempo your opponent. Epicure of Blood is the main common spell you want for this deck. The 4/4 body is great in combat, and the extra edge you'll get in life totals can be the difference between narrowly losing and winning a turn early.
The trick with lifegain archetypes is that both White and Black tend to have some aggressive creatures and some controlling spells. That gives these archetypes a lot of flexibility in how you build them. For example, at common, Skymarch Bloodletter is an aggressive creature, but Dwarven Priest is a more defensive creature. The texture of your common and uncommon creatures will determine a lot about how your deck schemes to win a game.
Even if you don't have a lot of lifegain synergies, you can rest easy knowing that you're in the colors that get to play both Herald of Faith and Vampire Sovereign. Those cards are going to be frighteningly good in any deck they appear in. The Sovereign is the kind of bomb that you hope your opponent dies so that you can get it back with Gravedigger and trigger its ability again.
Blue/Red wants to be aggressive in this set. Evasive threats and cheap interaction keep your opponent on the back foot so that they can never build the board presence necessary to stop you. Enigma Drake is the only reprinted signpost uncommon in the set, but it's one the ones with the most raw power. Even with just two instants or sorceries in the graveyard, Enigma Drake is a solid 2/4 flier for only three mana. In a spell-heavy deck, it's not uncommon to have a 4/4 Drake just smashing the face of a staggering opponent.
Since Blue/Red spell decks don't run as many creatures as most limited decks, it's important to make the most of the creatures you do run. Core Set 2019 has made this relatively easy by giving you Aven Wind Mage. A 2/2 flier for three is fine anyway, but it can often attack as a 3/3 flier for three. At common. That's absurd. Guttersnipe is another key reprint in this set, effectively sending unblockable damage to your opponent whenever you cast a spell. That damage can add up quick and end games with a stalled board. Boggart Brute and Departed Deckhand are other evasive threats that you can attack with while your spells control your opponent's board.
In order to keep attacking, you need to ensure your opponent has a hard time blocking. Cheap removal is key here. Disperse, Shock, and Lightning Strike are all cards you want to play multiple copies of. Shock and Lightning Strike can also target your opponent when their life total is low. You can chain other spells together in the limited version of UR Storm decks with Anticipate, Crash Through, and Tormenting Voice. Be wary of putting too many of these "do nothing" spells in your deck though. You want to prioritize ways to impact the battlefield and then fill in where you can.
Black/Green: Value Grind
The Black/Green archetype is similar to the Blue/Black one in that it looks to edge out your opponent with incremental value over the course of the game. The main difference is that Black/Green focuses on creatures and combat rather than spells and control. This difference is exemplified by Poison-Tip Archer. If you play this creature, there's basically no way for your opponent to safely attack you. Deathtouch and reach mean it can block any creature and kill it in combat. Its second ability also lets you attack and trade aggressively, as the life loss (for your AND your opponent's creatures) will keep the pressure on. Slimefoot, the Stowaway had a similar impact in Dominaria limited. Combine this life loss with Black's creature recursion and you opponent won't be able to win the war of attrition.
Accruing value means getting as many two-for-ones as you can. I already talked about how powerful Skeleton Archer can be, but don't ignore the card advantage of Doomed Dissenter, Elvish Rejuvenator, and Rhox Oracle too. That's just at common. Gravedigger is one of the best creatures for this archetype because Green gives you such impressive creatures to bring back from the graveyard. Although it's not a creature, don't ignore Recollect either. Recycling your creatures over the course of a game to run your opponent out of removal and blockers creates an inevitable victory.
Dominating combat is pretty much Green's thing, so don't feel bad about trading off your creatures to make way for your bigger threats. Black's removal can also sculpt the battlefield so that your opponent never has good blocks for your powerful Green creatures. If you can run your opponent out of resources, they will have nothing left when you finally cast your Colossal Dreadmaw.
Red/White: Go Wide
Red/White sticks to its roots as the color of small creatures swarming at the speed of light to end games before they even start. The goal is to play out a bunch of small creatures, keep up the pressure, and finish off your opponent with burn spells or fliers. Heroic Reinforcements bundles much of this together in one card. It creates two tokens and pumps your entire team, which creates a surprise blocking nightmare for your opponent. It's a card that will often play like Overrun, ending the game as soon as your opponent sees you cast it. A similar effect is on Angel of the Dawn, which leaves a decent sized flier behind too.
One of the best creatures for this archetype is Gallant Cavalry. You get four power for four mana, and both creatures have vigilance. Staying on the offensive without opening yourself up to a racing situation will keep the pressure on your opponent to find answers instead of developing their own plan. You can find your copies of Gallant Cavalry with the other stellar creature for this deck: Militia Bugler. These colors don't get much raw card advantage, but the Bugler can grab more creatures to reinforce your offense.
You don't want to make it easy for your opponent to block your early creatures, and there are many creatures that aid with this. Boggart Brute and Havoc Devils are evasive threats. Pegasus Courser can give another creature flying to open up more attacks. Finally, Star-Crowned Stag does it slightly weaker impression of Territorial Hammerskull to remove your opponent's best blocker each combat.
The most potent part about aggressive Red/White decks in Core Set 2019 is that Shock and Lightning Strike can both deal damage directly to your opponent. When your best removal spells can end the game if you draw them late, your aggressive deck is that much better.
Finally, the Green/Blue deck is all about out-tempoing the opponent. This archetype leans on Blue's disruptive cards supporting the great stats on Green's creatures. Blue also has a few spells that help push damage through, and those are most potent with huge creatures. Skyrider Patrol is the best of both worlds. Its stats are a little lower for a four-mana flier, but its ability more than makes up for it. Games where you can untap and attack with a now 7/7 flying trample Colossal Dreadmaw are almost impossible to lose, but you don't have to achieve that kind of dream play for this card to be effective. You can effectively put a +1/+1 counter on a creature you control every turn, giving you the inevitability to just swing and end your opponent no matter how many fliers they have to block yours.
Blue has three other cards that help push through damage: Ghostform, Aether Tunnel, and Departed Deckhand. If you begin with early pressure from your Green creatures, these spells can keep your offense going no matter what kind of blockers your opponent musters.
This is also the archetype that can best utilize Blue's big common creature, Frilled Sea Serpent. This thing can just make itself unblockable and crunch for a ton of damage, but it's a six-drop with a seven-mana ability. Green's ramp spells can not only help you reach those costs, but they can even let you hit them early. Horizon Scholar at uncommon is a similar creature that this archetype can ramp into better than Blue's other pairs.
Mirror Image is a weird Clone variant that's difficult to evaluate. It only costs three mana, two less than most Clones these days. The downside is that you can only copy a creature you control. Clones tend to be good because you'll always have the best creature on the board, even if your opponent has that creature. Mirror Image is worse when you're behind, but its so good when you have a beefy Green creature to copy. If this card is quite good, I think it will be in this color pair.
Beyond the Core
Here's the thing:
There are a ton of build-arounds in this set. Psychic Corrosion and Millstone give me hope that there's a mill deck to be found. I'm not sure what color would go best yet, but it's an exciting prospect. With Volley Veteran at uncommon and Goblin Trashmaster at rare, is there a potential Goblin tribal deck? Who will let Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma and Colossal Majesty let them relive the glory days of the ferocious mechanic from Khans of Tarkir? And don't get me started on those five Elder Dragons that you should absolutely try to build around if you have a chance.
While the commons and most of the uncommons look to make Core Set 2019 a beginner-friendly limited set, there appear to be lots of juicy cards for experienced players to experiment with. I think draft is going to get particularly interesting if this ends up being a medium or slow format.
Until it's time to draft the set, you should all practice with a sealed deck. The Core Set 2019 prerelease is July 7th and 8th, so make sure you know where events near you are being held! If you're new to an area or new to Magic itself, you can always use the Event Locator to find a store near you. If you've enjoyed today's article or have any questions, feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Twitter @_SEV8. Good luck to all those that will be attending a prerelease!