Core Set 2019 Draft Primer

by Zen Takahashi on 17 August 2018, Friday

Zen Takahashi


Core Set 2019 Draft Primer

Hello everybody!

I competed in New Zealand's Nationals, which involved five rounds of Standard followed by a Core Set 2019 draft. Since the tournament only involved one draft, my preparation for it was minimal. I did five drafts on Magic Online, four of which I lost in the first round, and then had a comprehensive discussion with some of my teammates - which proved to be immensely helpful. 

Today, I will be going over our overview of the format based on the discussion, as well as our pick order lists for the format. 


Overview of the Format

Over the last few sets, we have gotten used to seeing powerful two-drop creatures – which have led to formats that have generally gravitated towards being more aggressive.

However, Core Set 2019 breaks this trend. Most of the two drop creatures are weak and fragile, and instead, the format is mostly about the four and five drop creatures – where the quality of the creatures dramatically increases. This means that it is difficult to be aggressive in this format, as your early creatures cannot push through for enough damage before they start getting road blocked by these bigger creatures, and eventually, the superiority of these more expensive cards just takes over the game. 


Goblin Instigator Gallant Cavalry Inspired Charge

The exception to this is the RW Go-Wide Aggro and the GW Auras decks. Although these big threats can roadblock the small creatures, as stand-alone bodies, they are not able to handle creatures going wide.

Red-White looks to exploit this, by using creatures such as Goblin Instigator and Gallant Cavalry to swarm the board, and then use an anthem effect such as Inspired ChargeAngel of the Dawn or Trumpet Blast to push through a ton of damage. 


Satyr Enchanter

On the other hand, GW Auras looks to use various auras to size its creatures bigger than the expensive threats. However, unlike Red-White, this strategy is a lot more vulnerable to removal spells. The archetype is also difficult to draft, as you need the correct combination of good creatures to put auras on, enough auras to make these creatures relevant and still have removal spells to deal with bombs that you cannot overpower. Needing to tick all these different boxes makes it easy to train wreck this archetype so I would generally avoid it if I can. 

Since this format is dictated by these larger creatures, most of the decks in the format end up being some iteration of a midrange/control type deck with seventeen lands. Some decks try to go even bigger by playing some ramp spells to support six and seven drop creatures. The significant issue here though is that the format has few mana sinks, card manipulation or card advantage. This means that you are prone to flooding. On the other hand, you also cannot afford to cheat on your land count, because if you ever get mana screwed in the early turns, you will lose, as your opponent's big creatures will quickly close out the game before you have the time to recoup. 

One of the solutions to this issue is to draft one of the previously mentioned aggressive archetypes – Red-White and Green-White – which can both get away with having a low curve and sixteen lands, which means you are less prone to flooding but can also still be in the game if you do get mana screwed.


Anticipate Omenspeaker Divination

However, for the slower archetypes, the issue can be solved by playing Blue. Blue has a decent amount of both card manipulation, such as Anticipate and Omenspeaker, as well as card advantage, such as Divination and Sift. This means that you are less likely to miss your land drops in the early game, while also having ways to mitigate flooding in the later stages of the game – which makes you favored against the other slow decks when the game goes long. 


Essence Scatter Cancel Uncomfortable Chill

Blue's counterspells, notably Essence Scatter and Cancel, are also the few cards in the format that play well from when you are behind. If you are mana screwed, you still have the opportunity to recover if you can counter their big creatures with your cheap counterspells.

Another card that has surprisingly overperformed and plays well when you are behind is Uncomfortable Chill – not only does it cantrip, but it also allows for some devastating combat setups, especially as people seldom play around it. It also acts as an answer to the anthem effects that Red-White has, which can lead to a blowout in combat. 

Blue is not an inherently powerful color, and its creature quality is lower compared to the other colors. However, Blue does provide great solutions to the fundamental issues that exist in the format, which makes it the best support color in the set.

Lee Shi Tian was the one who came to this realisation about Blue, and his strategy has been to soft-force Blue as a support color, and then look to pair it with the most open color - which will hopefully provide you with a deep card pool of good creatures and premium spells, while the Blue splash helps to fix the issues the deck may have. 


Tormenting Voice Vampire Neonate

Outside of Blue, some notable cards that also help with these issues are Tormenting Voice and Vampire Neonate. Tormenting Voice is essentially Red's Anticipate, and I think it is what makes the GR Ramp archetype good – Green has some of the best threats in the format, but lacks removal and is prone to flooding. Red can fix that by providing it with good removal spells, but also gives you access to Tormenting Voice which helps to mitigate the flooding – which is arguably the biggest problem these Green ramp decks face. 

Vampire Neonate is great as it not only acts as a crucial life gain enabler for the Black-White deck, which is one of the strongest archetypes in the format, but it also acts as a repeated mana sink. A two-point life swing is nothing to scoff at, and it can singlehandedly push your lead in a stalled board. 

Color and Archetype Rankings

The following is our archetype rankings:

  • Tier 1
    • RW Go-Wide Aggro 
    • UR Spells 
    • BW Lifegain 

  • Tier 2
    • UW Fliers/Control 
    • UB Control
    • GR Ramp

  • Tier 3
    • GW Auras 
    • UG Ramp
  • Avoid
    • GB Ramp
    • RB Sacrifice

If you look over the six archetypes that we consider to be Tier 1 and Tier 2, you will notice that half of them are Blue. This is because, as mentioned above, Blue is a great solution to the inherent issues present in the format.

The only Blue archetype that I do not consider to be in one of the top two tiers is Blue-Green, and that is because the deck is light on removal – which I consider to be a necessity in this format due to the large presence of bombs. If you do end up in Blue-Green, you have to highly prioritize Rabid Bite, Dwindle and any counterspells. 


Rabid Bite Dwindle

The three non-Blue archetypes in the top two tiers look to solve these problems in other ways, as mentioned before. Red-White looks to do so by lowering its curve and playing fewer lands compared to other decks in the format, while Red-Green utilizes Tormenting Voice for card manipulation and Black-White has Vampire Neonate as a repeatable mana sink. Both Red-Green and Black-White are less adept at mitigating these issues, but this is made up for by the fact that they have some of the highest raw power level, with cards such as Ajani's Pridemate and Dryad Greenseeker which are capable of winning games on their own. 

Draft Strategy

My general strategy in this format is to lean towards the Jeskai colors, but if Green or Black is open, or I am passed any payoff for Black-White Lifegain or Green-Red Ramp, I will happily move into the other two colors. Of the Jeskai colors, I consider Blue to be the safest color – especially as people currently underrate it, but White and Red are more powerful and pull you into the best archetypes. 

If you have read any of my draft articles in the past, you may know that I generally draft in a way where I look to force one of the top archetypes – depending on whichever one is the most open in my seat.

However, I do not think you can draft this way in Core Set 2019, as I believe the key to this format is to stay open since the premium rares and uncommons are much more potent than the other cards, while there is also a distinct lack of playables compared to previous sets. This means that if you are fighting over a color with your neighbor, it is unlikely you will end up with many of the powerful cards, while you may also be scrapping for playables. Although I consider Green and Black to be worse than the Jeskai colors, I would still much rather be in one of those two colors when it is open than to be clashing with my neighbor in one of the Jeskai colors. 

For a more detailed breakdown on these archetypes, I highly recommend checking out Lee Shi Tian's article, which can be found here. Shi Tian has had success in this format, having gone 6-0 in Booster Draft at Grand Prix Shizuoka to finish in a heartbreaking 9th place. 

Based on these rankings, our color preference is as follows:

  • White (Two Tier 1, One Tier 2, One Tier 3)
  • Red (Two Tier 1, One Tier 2, One Avoid)
  • Blue (One Tier 1, Two Tier 2, One Tier 3)
  • Black (One Tier 1, One Tier 2, Two Avoid)
  • Green (One Tier 2, Two Tier 3, One Avoid) 

Pick Order Lists

Please note that when you see cards of other rarities and colors in the pick order, it is to indicate where they stand in comparison to these cards. 

White Commons

White Uncommons

White Rares

Blue Commons

*We forgot to include Gearsmith Guardian, which should be on the same level as Snapping Drake.

Blue Uncommons

Blue Rares

*Metamorphic Alteration should be ranked higher – about the same level as Omenspeaker and Supreme Phantom.

Black Commons:

Black Uncommons:

Black Rares

Red Commons

Red Uncommons

Red Rares

Green Commons

Green Uncommons

Green Rares

Top Uncommons

Colorless Cards

*Transmogrifying Wand was accidentally left off, but it should be taken over every uncommon in the set. It is good in every deck but Red-White, and it is actively great in the Green decks. 

Multi-Colored Cards

My Nationals Result

Nationals did not go well for me, as I started 3-2 in the Standard portion with Turbo Fog which meant that I was dead by the time it was time to draft. However, I decided to stick around for the draft anyway and got to draft this sweet Blue-White deck which I went 2-1 with.



I hope you enjoyed this article as I covered the Core Set 2019 draft format in comprehensive detail! Good luck to everyone who will be competing in their Nationals, and may you all open a Banefire or a Resplendent Angel

Until next time!

Zen Takahashi
@mtgzen on Twitter 


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