Core Set 2020 Limited Guide (Part 1)

Hello again everyone,

It feels like it has been a while since writing one of these! In addition to enjoying my summer off I have been playing a good amount of Core Set 2020 (M20) since its release and I have to say it has been pretty enjoyable. I think this is a set that will please most people, as it manages to balance an increased power level compared to most core sets while maintaining beginner-friendly game play. I do have some qualms about the set that mostly pertain to the MTG Arena formats (which I will get into), but overall I think this is a very well designed set full of interesting cycles of cards and interactions. In Part 1 of this article I will be discussing the format as a whole and going over the archetypes and bomb rares that will be guiding most of your drafts.

The Format

M20 is an unusual core set. The power level is higher and there are more complex mechanics than what is typically seen in these sets. While you would normally see creatures and removal that is below average, M20 has some interesting attributes:

  1. It is fairly Bomb heavy – There are more bomb rares in M20 than the usual core set, and many of your drafts are going to be guided by opening one or more.
  2. The creatures are Average – While they are on par with most core set creatures and weak in terms of Power/Toughness, many creatures have strong abilities that are more on par with ‘normal’ sets.
  3. Removal is Average – Having Murder at common is interesting, but much of the removal is expensive or color specific.
  4. There are many Situational Cards – I can’t recall a set in recent memory that has more sideboard cards. Between the protection spells and conditional counter-spells and removal, there are many cards that are very risk/reward to play in your main deck. Because of this…
  5. The format is not well suited for Sealed or BO1– There are not only many dud rares (the Leyline cycle being the most egregious) but many commons/uncommons that are basically unplayable outside of the sideboard. There is also a cycle of cards that get better with additional copies and only one well supported tribe (Elementals) which make sealed pools extremely inconsistent. I am really disappointed about this aspect of the set, because I really enjoy Sealed. On Arena in particular I think it is basically unplayable due to it being only BO1. While it hasn’t hit ranked draft (BO1) yet, I have concerns that the format is going to lose a lot of depth when the sideboard is taken away. On the flip side I have really enjoyed the ‘Traditional’ BO3 format and all of the interesting interactions between protection, hate, and quirky/conditional artifact cards. This set is yet another compelling reason to make ‘Traditional Draft’ a Ranked format.
  6. The format is Slow – Red-based Aggro is possible and I think more players are going to be figuring out how to build it, but most games go long in this set. It can be viable to run fewer two-drops in favor of a higher/greedier curve. This also makes several 7-mana cards great in M20 whereas in other sets they might be considered too expensive. Additionally, there are several high-investment cards that I will be discussing since they are often able to pay off. I believe the format is slowed mostly due to the lack of powerful 2-and-3 drops. Most players are running high-value cards that favor card advantage in those slots and do not pressure opponents very much. This leads to many games where both players play out a good portion of their decks, and I am really happy with that aspect of this core set.

The Archetypes

Elementals

Risen Reef is absolutely broken and is far and away the best Uncommon in the set. At worst it replaces itself or ramps you and the upside is tremendous. If it is allowed to stick around it is pretty incredible how quickly you can play out your entire deck. Scampering Scorcher in particular is a potent combo, triggering Risen Reef 3 times (I have had at least one opponent concede on the spot after doing this).

Elementals are supported by some combination of Green, Blue, and Red. Risen Reef is the best reason to be in the archetype, but it isn’t essential. Elemental decks aren’t just Risen Reef combo decks and can be solid without it. I would rather be Green/Blue than Green/Red on average, but they aren’t drastically different in power level.

UW Flyers

This is another Tier 1 archetype that is extremely powerful when it comes together. Both Blue and to a lesser extent White are stacked with good flying creatures, and it can be really tough to defend against a swarm of them. Cards like Pacifism, Sleep Paralysis, Frost Lynx, and Unsummon work really well to control the board while your flyers go to work.

BG or UB Graveyard Interaction

These decks are getting into Tier-2 territory, but can still compete at a high level when they come together. Moldervine Reclamation is a powerful engine and the only non-rare that would get me to draft Green/Black. I do think Green supplies a lot of worthwhile creatures to bring back from the grave, and the sacrifice effects add value to cards like Ferocious Pup. On the Blue/Black side of things, the card advantage and removal are definitely there. I really like the ‘infinite’ interaction Scholar of the Ages has with Blood for Bones. Although it takes a little more work to pull together than Elementals, great decks are possible in these colors. In fact, there are plenty of tools in this set to draft a mana base that supports all three (Sultai). Pulling together some of the best cards from these three colors could certainly lead to a top tier deck.

Update: below is my first Ranked Draft of M20. Audacious Thief is a true criminal when backed up with Feral Invocation, Frost Lynx, etc.. He also gets more value out of cards like Bladebrand and Fathom Fleet Cutthroat. Note the lack of 2-drops, a good way to be greedy in this format:

7-2 in Ranked Draft

Mono Blue Weaponsmith

This is an interesting archetype that revolves around Renowned Weaponsmith and multiple copies of Heart-Piercer Bow and Vial of Dragonfire as an engine. Blue has enough strong playables to make this deck possible, but scoring at least two copies of Weaponsmith is imperative. This deck makes some cards like Stone Golem (3 drop status) and Diamond Knight better, and even makes a meme card like Colossus Hammer playable. I am not sure where to ‘tier’ this deck, but when it comes together it is sweet.

RW or UR Aggro

At this point in the meta it seems like running Aggro could be a good choice, as many players are running very slow decks. In the long run I do not think these are as good as the decks above, however. RW leans more creature heavy, while UR accommodates more noncreature spells. The downfall of these decks in my view is the lack of effective 2-drops. If you do find Stormkin or Vanguard early and add some other low-curve playables and removal/tempo to support them there is a good deck to be had.

Other Possibilities

All three of these combinations are creature based and do have potential synergy. BW has some support for a life gain theme, while GW benefits from playing many creatures. RB can pack a ton of removal, but I have concerns about getting to 20 damage (or more with all of the potential life gain cards) before your opponent stabilizes. Of the three I would be most excited to build around Ironroot Warlord.

The Bombs

I define Bombs as being better than any common or uncommon in the set. While there are many strong rares in the set the best uncommon is a doozy:

The card to beat

White

Realistically I would probably only take Ajani and Cavalier of Dawn over Risen Reef, but I wanted to throw Sephara on here because I have run her in a couple decks and she is no joke. I have casted her with the alternate cost as well as paid the full 7, and it is nearly impossible to lose once she’s in play. Even if she gets hit with Pacifism or Sleep Paralysis, indestructible creatures are really obnoxious in limited. The Cavalier cycle of Elemental Knights are M20’s version of the Gods, and you will be seeing them all in this section. They don’t take over the game quite as much as Kefnet or Oketra from WAR, but all of them have good abilities when they enter and leave the battlefield on top of their good stats. Finally, like any good Bomb, Ajani wins the game by himself if he is not dealt with swiftly.

Blue

Blue is absolutely stacked in this core set. Dungeon Geists, Atemsis, and Cavalier all have excellent abilities in addition to being hefty flyers. I had the good fortune to draft all three of them in the same deck earlier this week:

5-0, of course!

Cards like Drawn from Dreams and Agent of Treachery really over perform in M20 due to how slow the format is. Mu Yanling is beatable but protects herself and effectively takes over the game if left unchecked.

Black

Cavalier of Night and Dread Presence are the best Black has to offer, and Knight of the Ebon Legion isn’t too far behind. I thought about including Rotting Regisaur here but decided against it (2B 7/6 discard at the beginning of every upkeep). It is a strong card, especially since the discard drawback doesn’t matter after you’ve emptied your hand. I just think there are a lot of ways for your opponent to deal with it and it is difficult to play without throwing away a card or two. These three are easy picks though, and great reasons to draft Black.

Red

Chandra is the avatar of the set and the best card in it. Cavalier of Flame and Drakuseth are less exciting, but still very powerful. A couple nights ago I was narrowly beaten by Deathsie (a popular streamer) with Drakuseth. I watched from his perspective afterwards which made me rage a little because he had a couple absolute nut draws to win, but it was still a really exciting game. And once again we have a 7-mana creature that is able to excel in this format.

Green

Just like Blue, Green is absolutely stacked in M20. Gargos gives Chandra a run for her money for best card in the set, and the other five here aren’t far behind at all. Opening any of these cards would happily put me in Green. I like when cards like Nightpack Ambusher and Shifting Ceratops break the color rules a little bit, giving Green ‘Flash’ and ‘Haste,’ respectively. It is rare to see in a core set and adds another layer of complexity to the set.

Multicolor and Artifact

There isn’t much to put here, but Omnath is a very good card in arguably the best three colors in the set. I am honestly not sure if Bag of Holding belongs here, but I love the flavor of it, and the format seems slow enough that it should be able to provide a ton of card advantage. As of this writing I have not played with or against it, though. There are some other good Artifacts like Steel Overseer and Golos but I don’t see them as Bombs.

Conclusions

Core Set 2020 is fairly complex and has cards with a higher power level than you would typically find in a core set. There are a lot of interesting sideboarding possibilities with the return of protection and many hate cards. Unfortunately, those possibilities are lost in best of 1 formats. I am concerned that drafting for BO1 is going to become somewhat rote when a large chunk of the cards are unplayable. I am also surprised there aren’t more tribes supported in the set besides Elementals. It would have been interesting to see more Vampires, Dinosaurs, or synergy with Golems. In the end I don’t think M20 is a miss for Limited, at this point I would say it is fair-good but time will tell as it moves into the ‘Ranked Draft’ queue on Arena. Before you draft I highly encourage you check out Part 2 of this article where I go over all of the best common and uncommon cards in the set and highlight some interesting interactions between them.

Part 2 Here: https://mtgazone.com/limited/core-set-2020-limited-guide-part-2

Thanks for reading and if you are feeling generous and want to support my blog you will find a donate button below. You can also support me by following/subscribing on Twitch and watching me draft/play some Ranked M20 with commentary (http://twitch.tv/compulsion02).

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2 Responses

  1. Tom says:

    What if on none of my picks I get ANY of the cards in this article? It’s happened for the last 3 events. I am just a losing gems machine.

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