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Magic: The Gathering’s New Set Is Changing the Game

By Kenneth Williams in Sports
| June 26, 2019 12:00 am PDT
The Next Mythic Championships

Competitive Magic: The Gathering did not start with MTG Arena, but its popularity has exploded since the release of the new online client.

Their third major esports event, aptly named the Mythic Championship III, was a major break from their past Mythic Championships.

For the first time, MTG Arena itself was used as the client.

Magic esports is still in its honeymoon phase, with tons of Twitch viewers watching both tournaments and casual streamers. The decisions to invite top online players to the Mythic Championship spurs the more hardcore streamers too. This competitive diversity is great to see from a new esport.

Similarly to other esports like League of Legends or Rainbow Six Siege, Magic: The Gathering is a constantly evolving game. Each year, four new sets are added into the game. Each of these sets contains hundreds of cards added to the Standard card pool.

Three of the sets are focused on the game’s storyline. They include trips to new or recurring planes, each with their own themes and backstories. One set a year, though, doesn’t have any kind of theme. Instead, it’s dedicated to Magic: The Gathering’s core essentials.

Core Sets are supposed to be the foundation on which Standard as a format is built. These sets contain more answers than threats and are meant to introduce newer players to the game. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a big impact on competitive play, though.

Almost every major deck has an answer in the Core Set. Wizards of the Coast seems to have designed it from the top-down to answer the powerful creatures and devastating spells in Standard.

Each color has its own new tools, so let’s break down each one’s new cards and how its old decks will fare.

MTG: White

White Weenie decks, where players scramble to put many small creatures on the board, were a dominant force throughout the past year. A list with some grindy elements like Tithe Taker and Legion’s Landing took Marcio Carvalho all the way to Top 8 of the first Mythic Championship.

The deck has even seen success with War of the Spark Standard. Gideon Blackblade and Tomik, Distinguished Adkovist both appear from War of the Spark, but the deck hasn’t really gotten any new tools. Brought Back is the only new rare that fits into the deck, and it’s likely to be side boarded in rather than out.

The majority of White decks usually only splash the color for removal and sideboard options, and those decks just got a whole lot better. Leyline of Sanctity, a staple in other formats, has been reprinted into Standard. The card can be played for free if it’s in a player’s opening hand and prevents the opponent from directly targeting its controller.

This shuts down a bunch of decks. Mono-Red relied on shoving damage in their opponent’s face, but this Leyline prevents that completely. Many control decks run a full set of Mind Erasures. Hand-destruction effects are basically dead against a Leyline of Sanctity.

Esper Control and Bant Reclamation would both like that effect, so I imagine a full four will appear in their sideboard.

MTG: Blue

The color everyone hates to play against isn’t getting much better. The first Mythic Championship saw several Mono-Blue decks in the Top 8. Even the winner, Autumn Burchett, piloted the deck. It’s slowly fallen out of favor with tournament grinders, and with Core Set 2020, it’s likely gone for good.

One of the more popular Blue decks since War of the Spark’s release has been Blue-Green Nexus.

The deck uses Nexus of Fate to take a bunch of turns in a row and slowly destroy their opponent. Matias Leveratto played Simic Nexus to a first-place finish at the last Mythic Championship, so the deck still has legs.

Most of Core Set 2020’s Blue cards are suited to the controlling side of the color. Esper Control and Tempo have a few new tricks, but Izzet Phoenix wasn’t in mind for many of the set’s Rares.

Blue control decks like Esper could run Drawn from Dreams, which lets a player see seven cards deep in their deck and choose two to keep for just four mana. That’s a very good rate. I could see Wilderness Reclamation decks snatching it up too since they can untap and hold up their two new defensive spells.

Blue also gets a Leyline, but Leyline of Anticipation just lets its controller cast their spells at instant speed. It’s powerful, but Teferi, Time Raveler offers a similar effect along with removal. I doubt it will see much play outside of a janky combo deck.

Esper Control is likely here to stay for Core Set 2020 Standard. Mono-Blue might finally have fallen off, and there isn’t a clear shell to replace the aggressive Blue deck void.

MTG: Black

Black is one of the weaker colors in Standard right now. Most decks that run Black cards, like Grixis Control and Sultai Midrange, are only using a few key cards.

The color has the most unconditional removal for both creatures and Planeswalkers. Vraska’s Contempt and Ravenous Chupacabra are both versatile, and Kaya’s Wrath and Nicol Bolas’ cards make frequent appearances.

There are some rogue decks running Command the Dreadhorde to reanimate a bunch of Planeswalkers at once, but Black doesn’t have anything else exciting.

Their Leyline prevents enemies from filling their graveyard, but the effect isn’t nearly as powerful in Standard as it is in Modern. Decks that take advantage of the graveyard rarely rely on them entirely.

Black does get some really cool cards in the new Core Set, even if they aren’t competitively designed. Rotting Regisaur is a 7/6 for three mana, so that’s exciting. There are some weird combos with Blood for Bones, a card that lets you sacrifice one creature to bring back to the battlefield and another to your hand.

Grindy elements like that are good, but I can’t see a Mono-Black deck developing from pure value. Other decks will continue to splash it for removal alone.

MTG: Red

The terror of Standard, Mono-Red Burn, is no more. White has gotten a lot of life gain tools in this set and Leyline of Sanctity is just a plain blowout for decks that plan to cast Wizard’s Lightning targeting face.

Mono-Red Burn is a favorite for new players. Despite making it to the Top 4 of Mythic Championship III, the list piloted by two-time World Champion Shahar Shenhar only costs $90. A full four-of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria costs twice that much alone.

More experienced players have opted for the Blue-Red Phoenix deck that relies on casting three spells in one turn to bring back hasted 3/2 fliers from the graveyard. The deck sees lots of success in Magic’s older formats. Blue’s card draw and Red’s ability to close out games combine to make a deck that’s hard to interact with.

Red-Green creature strategies remain popular at the top level, despite being overshadowed by control decks. Core Set 2020 contributes to those decks quite a bit with strong late-game bombs like Chandra, Awakened Inferno, and Drakuseth, Maw of Flames. Both cards are expensive and rely on a long game, so Big Red might replace Burn as the dominant Red deck.

We saw Alex Majlaton make the Top 8 of the first Mythic Championship with a Red-Green creature strategy. The deck is only getting tools, so we could see him or another skilled pilot take the deck to new heights at the next Standard Mythic Championship.

The Best Deck in MTG: Green

Mono-Green is the best deck for a new Magic: The Gathering player for a few reasons. The main one is its simple game plan—play big creatures and swing at your opponent. That same philosophy is true in Core Set 2020.

Green gets big creatures and tons of ramp. Their new Leyline is the best example. It allows creatures that tap for mana to provide an additional mana. In the late-game, it can even be used to pump a team of small creatures. Leyline of Abundance is a weird card, and I’m looking forward to seeing it in tournaments.

Green also has the most powerful Planeswalker in the set. Vivien, Arkbow Ranger is a repeatable source of removal for Green decks as well as a way to pump the team. It’s very versatile and cheaper than Vivien’s old card at just four mana.

Many of the mainstays for Green decks, like Carnage Tyrant, Vivien Reid, and Wildgrowth Walker don’t have much time left in Standard. Many decks use Green as their base and splash other colors for win conditions or interaction, so Green’s place in the metagame is going to stay the same. There are no real threats to replace Carny T, so hopefully we’ll see something in the next set.

Magic’s Answers Are Getting Stronger

Now that Magic: The Gathering is getting comfortable as an esport, they’ve got to keep spectators interested. A new set is a perfect way to do that, and Core Set 2020 looks anything but boring.

Based on the new cards, I expect slower decks to perform much better. We saw Midrange strategies fall off due to both Mono-Blue Tempo and Simic Nexus of Fate decks, but I think they’ll make a comeback.

With a slower metagame, the 36 Planeswalkers from War of the Spark will really get to strut their stuff. There are a few other slow strategies like Goblins, Sacrifice Value, and Superfriends that are buffed by having stronger answers. The new dual lands introduced by Core Set 2020 all come into play already tapped, so that helps slow down games too.

Magic is now growing as an esport. Wizards of the Coast has a lot riding on their new set’s success, and I think they’ll keep the momentum going.

If you’d like to bet on any of the four remaining 2019 Mythic Championships, check out any of our preferred betting sites.

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