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First Look at Core Set 2020

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Wait what?

We're in preview season again?

Didn't War of the Spark just come out? Oh wait, I mean Modern Horizons. God, I just can't keep up anymore!

It certainly doesn't help the new set fatigue that both War of the Spark and Modern Horizons were hugely influential sets and we've barely scratched the surface of their effects on all formats, but here we are once again.

Core sets are nice for Wizards of the Coast because they have a much wider berth than with normal expansions. They can reprint cards that seem good for Standard, plug holes, and prop up themes that aren't as good as they thought they would be and have it still make thematic sense. There are no restrictions like there are with sets located on certain planes, so they can print that extra dinosaur or vampire with no continuity-based issues.

Core Set 2020 is already looking like a powerful and impactful set, so today we're going to take our first gander at the card list and talk about some cards that stood out to me at first glance. Let's go!

Goblin Ringleader

Where else would I start?

Many of my early big finishes were with Goblins. They won me my first PTQ, took me to Top 8 of Grand Prix Dallas 2006, got me a number of early SCG Tour Open Top 8s, and took me all the way to the finals of an early SCG Tour Invitational. I doubt there are many players who have put Goblin Ringleader into play more than me and it's not short selling it to say it's one of my favorite cards of all time.

I was very surprised when it wasn't in Modern Horizons, as Goblins feels like it would be a very fun deck for the format that would be tame by current Modern standards. Well now we see why! Rather than just being relegated to the world of Modern, we get to play Goblin Ringleader in Standard as well! The question of course is will he have any friends?

It is very odd they chose to print a handful of good Goblins in Dominaria and Core Set 2019, including old friends Goblin Warchief and Siege-Gang Commander as well as new tribal cards like Volley Veteran, but didn't give them the support they would have needed to make an impact. Now we get Goblin Ringleader... only to see the other good Goblin cards rotate out in a few months.

Regardless, Goblin Ringleader asks a lot but also provides you with the worthwhile payoff you need to commit yourself to playing a bunch of tribal creatures. You need to play a lot of Goblins in your deck to make Goblin Ringleader effective, but once you start drawing them by the fistfuls it doesn't matter if they are a bit underpowered. If he has support he will be very playable in Standard, and now Modern Goblins has a chance to succeed as something more than a cheese-you-out deck.

I'm excited!

Chandra, Acolyte of Flame

Ah yes, just what we always wanted... more planeswalkers!

Three Chandras in one set!

MORE PLANESWALKERS!

Kidding aside, the uncommon, rare, mythic progression of Chandra planeswalkers is a pretty cool design, as is the idea of focusing on a single planeswalker's story across one set. However, while Chandra, Awakened Inferno is the big splashy mythic rare of the cycle, Chandra, Acolyte of Flame is by far the best Chandra in the set, as well as probably the best planeswalker in the set.

While her first ability is mostly just a +1 that doesn't do anything, that's honestly fine coming out of a three-mana planeswalker. Five loyalty is a great starting point, and if you get to add some loyalty counters to other planeswalkers it's a nice bonus. Her second ability isn't much, but the ability to pressure planeswalkers without losing a card is paramount in Standard right now. Answering Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils is perhaps one of the biggest concerns in the whole format, and Chandra does a good job at poking them for essentially free.

However, Chandra's true draw is her -2 ability. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy was extremely underrated at first, because it felt like you only got one shot at the Snapcaster Mage effect and then it didn't do anything for a while. It turns out getting instant value while also having a must answer permanent in play for a fairly low cost is very good. Chandra also isn't limited to only Red spells, so you can flash back Thought Erasure, Cast Down, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

Chandra is the real deal.

Fry

Take that Teferi!

Sideboard color-hosers have always had a weird history in Magic. You don't want your postboard games to feel like a battle of who can draw their sideboard card first, so cards like Boil, Choke, and Chill are just far too much. However, having access to non-maindeckable effects that are very good at keeping certain strategies in check is a great way to maintain balance in a Standard format. If Teferi and friends are running rampant, having something like Fry around to keep the balance is nice.

That's all really; just a nice and clean cycle of sideboard cards is a great thing to have access to.

Planar Cleansing

Another blast from the past!

I was one of the first players to find success playing Planar Cleansing in my uw Control deck over Detention Sphere, an innovation that would go on to win a subsequent Pro Tour.


The biggest draw to Planar Cleansing was its ability to clean up a mixed threat board comprised of both creatures and a variety of planeswalkers. Sound familiar?

War of the Spark Standard is defined by planeswalkers and creatures. With Teferi, Time Raveler making counterspells almost unplayable and Narset, Parter of Veils making it hard to draw cards without using planeswalkers, pretty much everything that is happening in Standard is happening on the battlefield. This leads to cluttered boards and complicated boardstates that are hard to gain an edge on. One of the reasons why Command the Dreadhorde is so good is that it goes so far over the top on the board, or can rebuild a board that was taken apart.

Planar Cleansing changes all of that, with the ability to clean up everything, no questions asked. With so few decks playing countermagic at the moment, Planar Cleansing may just be the answer the format needs.

Marauding Raptor

This card feels like an apology.

Wizards of the Coast: "When we debuted Dinosaurs as a creature type in Ixalan we knew everyone was going to be very excited and we were too! However, we missed the mark on power level and were just as sad as you all were that dinosaur tribal wasn't playable. As an apology for that transgression we decided to print this very obvious Dinosaur enabler in Core Set 2020 to try and make things right for the few months that Ixalan is still legal. Enjoy!

Dinosaurs have struggled to gain much traction in Standard because the early plays just aren't that good. Cards like Drover of the Mighty are mostly just embarrassing, and enrage is a mechanic that is irrelevant if you're not getting into heavy creature combat or playing against Red.

Marauding Raptor solves both of these problems.

Marauding Raptor is a mana creature that isn't embarrassing, helping to power out cards like Ripjaw Raptor and Regisaur Alpha ahead of schedule while not limiting you to just playing Dinosaurs. It also does so as a respectable and reasonably durable 2/3, which will have value later in the game and often attack for four. And that triggered ability! Sure, it's a drawback for playing things with less than three toughness, but a huge boon to any card with enrage. Turn three Ripjaw Raptor and draw a card? That sounds awesome! Marauding Raptor may also be the card that gets Ranging Raptors to see play.

While it may not have much of a future post-Ixalan rotation, Marauding Raptor is certainly going to be impressive while it gets to play with its Dinosaur friends.

Wait, was this card supposed to be in Modern Horizons?

Elvish Reclaimer feels great. Crop Rotation is a widely played effect in the formats it is legal in, and Elvish Reclaimer is a spellshaper for Crop Rotation that also is a well sized creature in its own right. Being able to get any land is a huge game, and while Elvish Reclaimer may not make a huge impact in Standard it is excellent in older formats.

With fetchlands in the mix it is very easy to make Elvish Reclaimer into a 3/4, turning it into a sort of Wild Nacatl/Knight of the Reliquary split card. That's a lot of power for only one mana! The hardest part about playing Knight of the Reliquary is hoping you get to untap with it, and untapping with Elvish Reclaimer is much more doable.

Elvish Reclaimer is great!

*Jaw hits the floor*

Okay, Spectral Sailor may not be the best card in Core Set 2020, but as someone who has played Azure Mage, Fathom Feeder, and Mystic Archeologist in a number of Standard control deck sideboards over the years to success, Spectral Sailor just floors me.

Not only is a 1 mana 1/1 flying flash creature certainly above rate when compared to a two-mana 2/1 ground creature, having your card draw engine come down that early before any chance of it being countered is huge. We don't currently live in a world where counterspell-based control decks are a thing thanks to Teferi, Time Raveler, but if we did Spectral Sailor would be an amazing tool out of the sideboard.

Beyond my wildest control sideboard dreams, we have a very solid 1-drop for aggressive or tribal decks as well. Spectral Sailor wears a Curious Obsession just as well as Pteramander or Mistcloak Herald ever did, while also playing perfectly in the mid to late game with counterspells by forcing your opponent into action. Spectral Sailor also has two relevant creature types going for it as well. Spirits is a deck in Modern, but don't forget that Supreme Phantom is still legal in Standard! Ixalan's pirates still exist as well, always falling short of playability by just not having enough good cards. Don't forget that Lookout's Dispersal is actually a very good Magic card and Siren Stormtamer is a pirate too.

I'm in love with Spectral Sailor.

New Stuff Fatigue

While it's tough trying to parse new cards when we've barely figured out the ones that just came out a few weeks ago, it is still also pretty exciting to have so much to think about.

So far Core Set 2020 looks like a very interesting mix of old and new, with the possibility of effecting multiple formats at once while also propping up strategies in Standard that have fallen just short. I love the idea of unloved Standard cards finally getting some time in the spotlight, so that's a hit for me.

And Goblin Ringleader is back!!!