Core Set 2020 is finally here! I may have got a little carried away at pre-release as I ended up purchasing 85 boosters with a further 10 arriving at the weekend1. That gives me an awful lot of opportunities to write about cards though so without further ado I’ll crack open the first pack and pick a card to discuss:
Leyline of Combustion is a enchantment that deals 2 damage to an opponent if they target either you or one of your permanents with a spell or ability. Like all leylines, you can choose to have it start on the battlefield at the beginning of the game.
As I mentioned in my Core Set 2020 Primer, there is a leyline in each colour and they all work in the same way with the ability to start the game on the battlefield if they are in your opening hand, a trick which is much easier to pull off with the London Mulligan3. The white, blue, and black leylines are all reprints from previous sets but the green Leyline of Abundance and this red Leyline of Combustion are completely new to M204. There are several people who think that the advantage of a leyline is too good with it starting out on the field for free but I disagree; most of these enchantments have a very narrow scope (i.e. making the player hexproof) and they don’t usually become useful until the later game5. As with all Magic cards, there is a balance as enchantments are relatively easy to destroy with cards like Broken Bond, Disenchant, and Thrashing Brontodon. They also have a fairly tricky casting cost if you’re in anything other than mono colour and at a stage where the ability they provide likely isn’t good enough to make you want to cast it on curve. Finally, whilst it is easier to get at these leylines with the London Mulligan, that means you are likely going to start the game several cards down especially as one of your cards is now on the field and likely not terribly useful. That isn’t to say leylines are bad – they most definitely aren’t – but they aren’t some big bad game breaking piece either.
With all that said, damn this card looks good! When I first saw the card I thought it was just spells that targeted creatures so my mind was instantly drawn to control decks with their bounces and counters. The fact that it is spells and abilities and that it isn’t just creatures but permanents instantly makes this way more powerful. For one thing, it protects itself; even if it does nothing but get destroyed by Mortify it will still do 2 damage to the opponent. Ideally you want to do a lot more than that but at the base level it is still good if you managed to cast it for free. It is also important to note that the ability triggers whenever you or a permanent becomes a target, not when it’s resolved. This means you can counter a spell targeting you and you’ll still do the 2 damage.
The best way to think about this leyline is as a massive deterrent. You’re basically daring your opponent to sling spells at you as every time they do they’ll get hit. Sometimes they’re going to take that risk as they may straight-up lose the game if they don’t use removal or hit you with a burn spell. Whilst not particularly useful against creature heavy decks, any kind of control or burn deck is going to suffer heavily at the hands of this leyline.
Note that the leylines are not legendary enchantments6 so you can have multiples of these in play at the same time; this helps prevent you from getting bounced and countered (as with two on the field this would do 4 damage when one gets bounced and another 2 damage when the second one is countered on the way back in) but it is also a good way of doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling that threat level.
In terms of combos, there are a few nice things that can be done with this:
- Chandra, Awakened Inferno, widely regarded as one of the best cards of M20, pairs up nicely. Chandra will always be able to generate at least 1 emblem that starts dealing 1 damage to opponent every turn but she can be destroyed or bounced in response; she needs to be removed quickly though as otherwise her abilities are bonkers so your opponent is always likely to do something meaning you get a free 2 damage on them.
- Jaya, Venerated Firemage will add 1 extra damage from any red source which includes this leyline. If you manage to have two leylines out then that means 6 damage!
- You’d think that spectacle would be useful with this leyline but the reality is that all ten spectacle cards in Standard currently are either creatures or sorceries; if your opponent uses an instant against you on your turn then of course the 2 damage can activate spectacle to get you cheaper creatures or spells, especially in the early game, but this isn’t going to be of any use if they sling a spell during their turn.
- Angrath’s Marauders will double the damage of your leyline(s).
- Immolation Shaman will help lock down activated abilities from your opponent even further by adding an extra 1 damage.
- If you can time it right, The Flame of Keld could be a good way of getting 4 damage in to an opponent. Just wait until section III of the saga to bring in something you know your opponent will want to counter and see if they go for it; if they do, you hit them for 4 damage, if they don’t, you have something good on the field.
- Wildfire Elemental is great if you have several creatures as they’ll all get +1/+0 until end of turn for every time the leyline does damage.
In reality, you don’t need any of these pieces in order to feel the benefit of this leyline; it’s going to serve it’s purpose as a threat to those that would try and target you or any of your permanents. Whilst I don’t usually like the leylines from the point of view that the casting cost isn’t worth it if you find it later in the game, I’m willing to make an exception for this one. It would be nice to have it on the board from the start but I can see situations where I’d still play this on turn 4.
If you’re playing mono-red, this seems like an easy card to take a punt on. I’m certainly going to be trying it out in a few of my red decks.
Update: I’ve been using this card a little on MTG Arena and had a hilarious experience that proves this card is good even if cast in the late game. My opponent played Patient Rebuilding which I followed up with the leyline. The rebuilding is not optional so at the start of opponent’s upkeep it would hit me triggering the leyline for 2 damage. This was further compounded when they played a second Patient Rebuilding so I was now hitting them for 4 damage per turn. The game ended pretty quickly.
2 x 36 booster boxes, a pre-release sealed kit with 6 boosters, 2 boosters won at pre-release, and 5 boosters total from the Planeswalker decks (that now only have 1 per pack rather than 2 to reduce the cost). The next 10 are coming from the Bundle Box which isn’t available until Core Set 2020 launches fully this weekend. ↩︎
Which is an incredible card and will definitely be discussed later (although I already technically own one from the Chandra Planeswalker deck). ↩︎
Again, see my Core Set 2020 Primer for details on this but you essentially now keep drawing 7 cards but then discard X cards where X is the number of mulligans you’ve taken; this means you see more cards and have more of a chance of getting a leyline in your hand. ↩︎
The older red leylines include “Leyline of Lightning” from Guildpact that let you pay every time you cast a spell to deal 1 damage to a player whilst “Leyline of Punishment” from Magic 2011 prevented all players from gaining life and stopped damage from being prevented. I think this new one is better. ↩︎
Which is the one thing I would change. Having multiple copies of this on the battlefield at the start of the game seems nuts. ↩︎
This post is part of a weekday series where I open up a booster pack and pick a card to discuss. Whilst these are often the best cards from the set, I'll often pick one that is a bit niche or one that has cool artwork or flavour text. If there's a particular card you want me to take a look at, get in touch or join my Discord community.