With spoiler season over it’s time to take a look through the new mechanics and cards in Core Set 2020 to give you a basic primer on what you can expect both at pre-release and beyond. I’m not going to go through every card but I will try and showcase some of the important themes, returning mechanics, and a few of the really good cards you should be paying attention to.
Before I get to that, though, I need to mention the Loxodon in the room launching alongside Core Set 2020; the London Mulligan. Trialed at the Mythic Championship London 2019, the London Mulligan switches things up by removing the scry and instead always allowing you to draw seven cards and then place x number on the bottom (where x is the number of mulligans you’ve performed). For example, currently if you mulligan from seven cards you would draw six cards and then choose to stick or go down to five cards, four cards, and so on. Once you’ve stuck with a hand, you then get to scry 1. With the London Mulligan, you would instead go from seven cards to drawing another seven cards but then choosing six to keep; if you mulliganed again you’d draw seven cards but keep five, and so on. There is no scry but you are getting far more benefit as you get to choose the x best cards from a full draw rather than just being given x cards. It seems like a great change and will be especially noteworthy with some returning cards as we’ll see shortly. The London Mulligan is the official way to mulligan as of the launch of Core Set 2020 (including the pre-release weekend).
With that out of the way, let’s jump into some returning mechanics!
Protection hasn’t been seen in Standard for some time but it is back and it sounds like we could be seeing a lot more of it in the future. In a nutshell, protection means that a creature can’t be interfered with by a certain colour. For example, if we look at Unchained Berserker, this card has protection from white meaning that a white creature can’t block or deal damage to this creature and spells with a white casting cost can’t target, deal damage, or enchant this creature. It also can’t equip anything with a white casting cost. This is an incredibly good mechanic against specific colours as it is more powerful than hexproof; you are effectively indestructible if you block a white creature and you act like a River Sneak when attacking against white creatures. There is one creature available for each colour which each have protection from an opposing colour; Shifting Ceratops may as well be called “Screw You Teferi-o-saurus”!
There is also Gods Willing, a instant that lets a creature gain protection from a colour of your choice until end of turn (with a free scry bunged on the end for extra measure). This is very, very good; If you get it in sealed, you will play it.
The counter to protection is a concept known as “colour hosing”, cards that do something but only to specific colours. For example, Devout Decree can exile a creature or planeswalker for the low cost of , but only if it’s black or red. Fry can deal 5 damage to a creature or planeswalker for the low cost of , but only if it’s white or blue. There is an entire clever pie system that determines which colours oppose each other and which are allied but the important thing with all of these is that they are very rarely going to main deckable; they are tricks you keep in your sideboard so that you can use them should you need them in game two and three. You don’t want a Noxious Grasp in your deck and then find out you’re up against a Rakdos deck!
An important thing to note with both protection and colour hosing; when they mention a colour, the spell they are targeting only needs to have it in the casting cost, it does not need to be only that colour. For example, protection from blue will protect you from Teferi, Hero of Dominaria as it costs and therefore is a “white blue” card. Remember also that there are some cards which are specifically “all colours” such as Sphinx of the Guildpact; these would be blocked by any colour of protection even though the casting cost was colourless.
Another returning mechanic is Leylines. These are enchantments that can start the game on the battlefield if you have them in your opening hand after any mulligans have taken place. This is one reason why the London Mulligan is so good as you have a far higher chance of finding one of these cards. I’m particularly excited by Leyline of Anticipation for making all your spells flashable (which includes creatures and sorceries) but I also like the idea of using Leyline of Abundance with Llanowar Elves for potentially 4 mana on turn 2…
Fresh from War of the Spark, you may well have questions about the planeswalkers in this set. How many are there? Do they have static abilities? Are there common ones? For the most part everything is straightforward again in this set with planeswalkers back at mythic rare status with three activated abilities and no static abilities. Each of them looks pretty good with Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer probably being the best of the bunch. I do like that Ajani, Strength of the Pride does just create Ajani’s Pridemate tokens though!
Things get a bit more complicated with Chandra as she has three versions in the main set; an uncommon, a rare, and a mythic rare. However, the lower rarities still have three abilities but they are a lot less powerful1. Again, there are no static abilities2 and these are the only exceptions to the mythic rare rule mostly because the set is ostensibly about Chandra.
That gives us a total of seven planeswalkers in Core Set 2020 which goes up to twelve if you count the versions in the Planeswalker Decks that I’ll get to much later on.
Each colour gets itself a “Cavalier” which is an elemental knight creature that usually gets a keyword ability, an enter the battlefield ability, and a death trigger. Each of them is a mythic rare and costs 2 colourless and 3 of the specific colour. They are all fairly good but Cavalier of Gales is probably the best due to it being shuffled back into your library when it dies. Cavalier of Flame is probably the worst as it doesn’t have a keyword ability like the others do and the leaving trigger isn’t really going to be that powerful as you likely didn’t have many cards to discard in the first place as part of the ETB trigger.
There’s a nice cycle of rare legendary creatures which are all massively expensive but share a casting component of three of their particular colour. All of them are very good but the attack bonus on Drakuseth, Maw of Flames seems very good if your opponent has a wide board. It’s also very important to note that Gargos, Vicious Watcher does work with casting costs so you can use this and pay just to get a Hydroid Krasis where is ; the 8/7 toughness with vigilance was enough for the cost but that hydra price drop and the fight ability make this card crazy good.
Yet another thing that has been bought back from the past is the concept of coloured artifacts, in this case a cycle of 5 artifacts at the uncommon level. I really like the look of Mask of Immolation but I can see Wolfrider’s Saddle being very good in a deck with Arlinn, Voice of the Pack.
There is one further coloured artifact in the form of Chandra’s Regulator, a rare card that we’ll see again when I get to the various promos for this set. If you’re playing with any of the six Chandra’s that will be in Standard then this artifact is a no-brainer.
This is a bit of a fun cycle with rare instants or sorceries that each do something twice be that searching a library for two cards with different names to go into your hand as is the case with Shared Summons or return two permanents you lost this turn back to the battlefield with Brought Back. I particularly like that the doubling is clearly shown in the artwork for each card and also that each one has an alliterative name3.
Life-Gain Tapped Lands
Core Set 2020 includes a full helping of dual lands in the form of life-gain tapped lands; they enter the battlefield tapped but you gain 1 life as they do so. They are all commons and of the type “Land”.
There are also five “temples”, dual lands that enter the battlefield tapped but they give you a scry 1 when they do so. These lands are all rares and are also of the type “Land”. At that rarity level, I would have liked to have seen these be along the lines of Shock Lands and contain the type of each land they represent i.e. Temple of Mystery would be “Land – Forest Island” so that it could be used in conjunction with something like Nissa, Who Shakes the World. I just don’t think a scry is enough to elevate a tapped dual land to rare.
I’ve covered some of the core mechanics of the set but there are a few cards that deserve a special mention. I’ll be opening a booster pack a day and choosing a single to do a deep dive into once the set launches, but for now here are some quick thoughts on the cards that caught my eye during spoiler season.
- Planar Cleansing: A great sorcery that beats Cleansing Nova when it comes to sweeping destruction. Kills everything but lands (so creatures, planeswalkers, artifacts, enchantments, equipments, sagas, and so on).
- Rule of Law: An enchantment that prevents all players (including yourself) from casting more than one spell each turn. Really great for control decks especially if you know you can counter the one spell you’re allowing your opponent to cast. Note that it is “each turn” so you can cast a spell on your turn and your opponent’s turn.
- Brineborn Cutthroat: I mention this one purely to reference the fact that tribes are fairly well accounted for across the board. Vampires and elementals are definitely big but there is love for dinosaurs, merfolk, goblins, and pirates as well. This card also seems pretty good for an “end of opponent’s turn” surprise.
- Tale’s End: This is a great counter spell that is definitely going to see a lot of play; it can stop planeswalkers from landing but can also be used to stop a planeswalker ultimate from going off.
- Blood for Bones: An interesting sorcery which has an important flow to it’s text; you can sacrifice a creature on the battlefield and then return that one to either your hand or battlefield should you wish to (i.e. if it has a really good ETB trigger). Definitely one to watch out for.
- Bloodthirsty Aerialist: Did you want an Ajani’s Pridemate in black? Here’s one that flies with a very relevant creature type!
- Dread Presence: Swamp landfall that lets you draw a card for a bit of life loss or deal 2 damage and gain 2 life. I love the choice and I love the possibilities with a card like this. I’m also really loving seeing landfall abilities in Standard at the moment4.
- Embodiment of Agonies: Usually the core set is aimed at beginners. The relative complexity of this card (and the spelling out it requires) shows that this is not the case this time around.
- Rotting Regisaur: A 7/6 dinosaur for 3 mana. Are you insane?
- Glint-Horn Buccaneer: It’s nice to see a minotaur pirate that isn’t Angrath. His mana sink ability is also pretty good and could feasibly end a game if you have enough mana.
- Marauding Raptor: After the disappointing dinosaur in War of the Spark, I was overjoyed to see this raptor especially as it effectively replaces Otepec Huntmaster and Forerunner of the Empire. Beware, though; if you use this in combo with a Polyraptor then you get into an infinite loop which will cause the game to end in a draw, not a win5.
- Nightpack Ambusher: Another tribe that gets a good outing is wolves. This one has a particularly interesting end step condition again suggesting this is not the basic set one might think it would be.
- Voracious Hydra: Oh, you wanted another Hydra with an cost you could exploit with Gargos, Vicious Watcher? Here ya go.
- Kaalia, Zenith Seeker: If you’re running a deck with lots of angels, demons, and dragons, then this is a fine cleric for your deck. Even without those, a 3/3 flyer with vigilance for 3 (albeit difficult to cast) mana is not too shabby.
- Yarok, the Desecrated: Doubling ETB triggers is always fun as are creatures with both deathtouch and lifelink.
- Bag of Holding: Looks like the D&D crossover goes both ways! This is also a pretty decent card although you do need to remember to keep track of what you exiled with it.
- Golos, Tireless Pilgrim: If you’ve read this far and were wondering where the five-mana spells were at, Golos is available for you. Note that his ETB trigger can pull any land, not just a basic land.
- Grafdigger’s Cage: This is a reprint from way back when but it is going to be insanely useful in the current meta. There is basically no risk at having this in your sideboard at the very least as a way to neuter undergrowth, jump start, and a load of very specific cards.
There is one card that is so special it deserves to be shown and get a bit of extra discussion:
It’s always nice to see a card that harkens back to the world famous Black Lotus and this one does so with a number of caveats that can be easily circumvented. First of all, a hexproof land is always a good thing and tapping for three mana of any color6 is insane. It does enter tapped, which is fair enough, but the requirement to sacrifice two lands effectively means this doesn’t gain you much extra benefit. You can, of course, sacrifice those lands after you’ve tapped them for mana (which is sensible) but we can go a few steps further…
For starters, try using Brought Back which will allow you to bring back both of those lands straight away. An alternate strategy would be to use Crucible of Worlds to bring the lands back over time or you could just leave them there and buff Elvish Reclaimer. For my money, the best synergy is Blood Sun which removes all non-mana abilities from lands meaning that this card doesn’t have hexproof, doesn’t enter tapped, and doesn’t require you to sacrifice any lands. That works so well I picked up four copies just to be on the safe side for any possible price increase once the set launches!
Whichever way you play it, this is an incredibly good card and will likely be one of the most expensive on the singles market for this set.
There are a number of extras for this set beyond the 280 cards in the base set.
Buy-a-Box Promo: Rienne, Angel of Rebirth (#281). You get a free foil version when you buy a 36-booster box. A good card for Hero of Precinct One decks and Commander but otherwise not terribly interesting.
“Fat Pack” Bundle: An alternate artwork foil version of Chandra’s Regulator is included in the 10-booster bundle along with 20 foil land cards and an oversized die.
Planeswalker Decks: There are 5 planeswalker decks to purchase, one for each colour. They each include a foil copy of the planeswalker and 4 cards that are unique to the deck encompassing numbers #282 to #301. As usual, the cards aren’t actually that good (hence the ~£12 price point for a 60-card deck) but they are good for newcomers and for people that need to collect all the cards!
Spellslinger Kit: New this time around is the Spellslinger Starter Kit which encompass numbers #302 to #344. These are two pre-built mono-coloured decks that are designed as a way to teach two players how to play. Interestingly, there are a few unique cards in this kit and there are a number of reprints which are considered to be Core Set 2020 and so will therefore survive rotation. For example, Aggressive Mammoth would have left Standard after rotation but he lives on thanks to this beginner kit!
One final thing to note is that tokens have been redesigned in this set and are now full artwork! Here’s a look at all 12 tokens that you can find in Core Set 2020:
Best Artwork Award
Best Flavour Text
Another difficult choice but I’m going to go for Tale’s End; the attribution to Unknown is just perfect.
Best Card Of The Set
This card has already sparked a lot of debate and will do for a long time to come. A 7/6 for 3 mana. 3 mana!?!? Add to that some awesome artwork, funny flavour text, and the creature type “Zombie Dinosaur”7 and we have a winner.
I think that just about covers it. I’ll be back with a report on my pre-release at the weekend and then I’ll be doing regular booster pack openings with a deep dive into a single card each day starting on Monday 8th July. From that date I’ll also be back to streaming MTG Arena regularly on my Twitch channel.
Let me know your thoughts about Core Set 2020 in the comments below and feel free to join my Discord community to carry on the discussion about all things Standard.
Ironically the rare has two 0 loyalty abilities and a -2 whilst the uncommon has a +1, -1, and -2. ↩︎
Chandra, Awakened Inferno is an exception as she can’t be countered but that isn’t really the same as the static abilities in War of the Spark. There isn’t anything crazy like “opponents can’t gain life” or “all your forests tap for double mana”, etc. ↩︎
I really like the quirky naming conventions that sometimes occur in Magic such as the split cards in the recent Ravnica block always sharing the same first three letters on each half of the card. ↩︎
Rule 720.4: If a loop contains only mandatory actions, the game is a draw. ↩︎
Although do note that this is three mana of any one colour; you can make it but you can’t hvae it be . Also note that three of one colour works very nicely with that legendary creature cycle I mentioned back up the page… ↩︎