Meditations on Core Set 2019

by Tobi Henke on 23 July 2018, Monday

Tobi Henke

 

Meditations on M19

Are you also one of these people who while away the time until the release of a new set by drafting some high-powered cube on Magic Online? Have you noticed too how everything feels awfully weak when you switch back from that? How long it always takes to adjust to drafting the new cards?

Well, I'm not one of these people. I'm rarely inclined to join the cube queue at all, and I specifically wasn't tempted this time around. I know the feeling described above very well. It is precisely how it felt going from Dominaria to M19.


A Corset of a Core Set

Starting in 2009 with M10, Wizards published core sets for six years, all of which tried to square the interests of beginning players with those of the more enfranchised. 

 


Specifically, a couple of these sets gave old-timers some legitimately sweet Limited environments to draft. I fondly recall covering Grand Prix Gothenburg in 2010, for example. Back then, already Hall of Famer Nicolai Herzog and future Hall of Famer Anton Jonsson both reached the Top 8 drafting M11.

Alas, success varied. Some of the M-sets, especially the later ones, didn't live up to expectations. After 2014, the product line was discontinued. Until now...

Now Core Set 2019 may use M19 for an abbreviation, but it's not a spiritual successor to the M-line, not entirely anyway. It still tries to offer something to new and old players alike. However, when one interest clashes with the other, the needs of the beginners take precedence.

 


Getting one's priorities straight is, of course, a good thing. One could even argue that some of the problems that were ailing the latter M-sets only came from having to bridge a gap too wide. Still, it bears repeating that M19 is for first-time players first. It bears repeating because we hadn't had a core set like that since Tenth Edition in 2007!


Back to Basics

The Limited environment doesn't have the same depth as, say, Dominaria or Ixalan. There are themes, but there are no new named mechanics. There are no tricky color constellations, and there's no relevant tribal component.

There's also no clear advantage to prioritizing tempo or value, no way to go high or stay low with regards to mana costs, and no benefit to any such attempt either. Instead, the format is characterized by a clunkiness which permeates everything.

Manalith Strangling Spores

You have to pay two mana for a combat trick, 3 for a mana rock, 4 for a Last Gasp, and so on. Starting one's curve with a Skyspanner or spending five mana on a Rhox Oracle is all the more embarrassing because, most of the time, it just can't be avoided.

More than anything else, it's this clunkiness that makes mulligans, missed land drops, or falling behind so devastating. One rarely gets to cast two spells in the same turn, and few cards of a lower casting cost can trade up. It's a particularly bad idea to run lots of 2-drops to combat variance. Thus curving out occurs only at the mercy of lady luck.

In fact, the format offers a multitude of stumbling blocks over which one can trip, even if one didn't make any mistake. Most sets feature a bunch of ways to mitigate the impact of screw or flood, or both, whether it's cycling or kicker or lands with activated abilities or any number of options. 

 



In M19, such options are rare, often literally so. And it's not as if one is guaranteed to find salvation within the pages of an Arcane Encyclopedia. Tempo remains an important enough aspect that many games don't allow the use of such clunky tools, especially among all of the general clunkiness. For the same reason, one can't run a deck full of Meteor Golems or Ghastbark Twins

At the same time, pressing one's advantage can go horribly wrong too. Trying to convert an advantageous board position into a quick victory, for example by pointing Murder at a crucial but unthreatening blocker, can backfire spectacularly if the opponent's next creature happens to be Vampire Sovereign or Pelakka Wurm or rare.

The quality of removal is one of the strongest points M19 has going for it. Most bombs are handable. Of course, on the flipside, this means that Satyr Enchanter/Sai, Master Thopterist/Ravenous Harpy will hardly ever stick around to let a synergy approach succeed.

 


If all of this sounds very negative, well, that's my point. A lot can go wrong, and a lot will go wrong, and there's nothing one can do about that …


Grant Me Serenity

Here's where the title's meditation comes in. My first impulse was to search the fault with me. Maybe I'm just bad at drafting or haven't figured out some vital trick about the format?

I'm usually able to reach a point where I'm able to go 2-1 or 3-0 in the vast majority of my drafts. Note that this is not so much bragging as it is the admission that I may have a drafting problem. I do draft a lot, enough to overcome weaknesses as a player and to make up for a low learning curve.

 


20 drafts into M19, I was winning barely more than I lost, and this didn't change appreciably with another ten drafts under my belt either.

The obvious next move was to blame the designers. Admittedly, the thought that they didn't create a very good set crossed my mind even somewhat earlier. Losing to Sleep and to the combo of Ghirapur Guide plus Transmogrifying Wand and to my own Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire left me in a bit of a foul mood.

Eventually, though, I took a deep breath and decided that this set just wasn't for me. A veteran of more than 20 years of Magic, I'm hardly the target audience. And that's fine. 

 


I just went and did another Dominaria draft to convince me I don't suck at this game. As an additional advantage, this makes it hard to believe that the designers suck at their game. M19 is the way it is because it's supposed to be that way. And that's fine. Let others have fun and enjoy their more significant share of victories.

Although Tenth Edition never was, it's probably even okay that the set is going to be played at a couple of GPs. I'm confident that actual pro players will find a way to excel in this format too. I'll be at Grand Prix Turin to watch and learn. In the meantime, I'd love to hear about other people's experience with M19 in the comments below!

Thanks for reading. Until next time, I hope you'll find a way to enjoy Magic that works for you!




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