When it comes to celebrating Magic’s 25th anniversary, Wizards of the Coast has appeared to pull out all the stops in 2018, with a litany of celebrations, events, convention appearances, and tournaments.
They’ve also been churning out a ton of Magic product the last year or two, to a point where it’s difficult for entrenched fans with deep wallets to keep up with the pace, let alone new players.
Consider this: for a good chunk of Magic’s lifespan, the game averaged four releases a year. This typically included a small set in January or February, another small set in May, and a new large set in September. Buttressed between the two was a core set, generally released in July. Until Magic 2010, the core sets were entirely reprinted cards designed to help newer player get into the game, while making for a nice place to reprint occasionally sought after cards.
For the last decade, Wizards also historically released two different planeswalker Duel Decks, a From the Vault set, a Deckbuilder’s Toolkit for novices, and a multiplayer focused product (be it Planechase, Archenemy, Conspiracy, or Commander). Each year.
Then add in the fact that for the last five years (excepting 2014), they’ve added a Constructed-focused supplemental set to the rotation.
Then take into account that after Magic Origins in 2015, they did away with core sets entirely.
And, finally, as of this year, there are no more small sets.
Magic may be riding an all-time interest high, with copious product to cater to the numerous formats and preferences of its existing fan base, but the volume and pace of these releases has not been favorable to newcomers of the game. Over the last two years, it has been increasingly difficult for people looking to dip their toes into the shallow end of the mana pool. Just staring at all the options on a store wall alone can be daunting.
For the uninitiated, the question of where to start has been bewildering and challenging in ways that even Wizards was unable to find answers for. Despite several attempts to guide novice players towards tools that could be used as viable teaching vehicles, in the end they realized that while core sets aren’t necessarily the most profitable sets going, they have proven invaluable as a way to start playing the game without being overwhelmed to a point where you may decide to stop playing before you even start.
(Of course, the idea of buying into a CCG in 2018 is an interesting conversation to have, but that’s another topic for another day.)
So, recognizing just how much of a potential bottleneck they had with on the new player side, this year they brought the core sets back. Wizards realized that they made made a mistake, and it was something they had no choice but to fix if they wanted to keep the steady stream of inquisitive newcomers interested in their cardboard crack. They publicly acknowledged that they underestimated the impact of core sets for up-and-comers, and so, as of this summer Core Set 2019 made a triumphant return.
The 25th anniversary of Magic certainly has brought about some changes in the game, and after some thought, I’ve decided to follow suit with respect to this series and the frequency of non-standard weekly pieces. Namely, championing new multiplayer and Commander centric cards in sets as they come out.
In years past I’ve only decided to do these articles for Commander sets themselves or for multiplayer-focused sets like Conspiracy, as most of the time this series doesn’t even consider spotlighting cards unless they’ve been out for a least a year (helping illuminate older and easily forgotten cards, in the spirit of the EDH format). New set rundowns sort of run contrary to that, but they made for meaningful exceptions to my own series structure. So, in the spirit of celebrating the game’s 25 years and the return of core sets, it seems like an opportune time to start doing such pieces for each major set as it comes out. The only major difference between these rundown pieces going forward from those in the past is that they will be two-parters, broken down over two weeks as to better digest the cards discussed.
Speaking of which, on to Core 2019!
The core sets returned after a several year absence to a lot of attention, both because of the timing (being the 25th anniversary year), and because of what they decided to do with it. Much like previous core sets, this year’s iteration is an amalgamation of cards that pull their flavor from across the multiverse. For some this can create a thematic disconnect, but for many players, especially those that don’t know the decades of backstories, having a wide cross-section of card locales is a good way to introduce the game’s deep and long-running mythos.
Core 2019 is a bit of a deviation from many previous core sets though in that there actually is a small coherent theme running throughout the set, as quite a few cards reference the current Big Bad of the game: Nicol Bolas. These cards stretch the entire timeline of his storied career, from his current plans to reclaim power back to his roots in Dominarian history. The most notable cards reflecting this are new iterations of the other four original Elder Dragon Legends, as well as Nicol Bolas himself as he ascends to becoming a planeswalker – as demonstrated in the set’s only double-sided card.
That said, core sets by their nature are designed to be less complex and have a less cohesive theme compared to other sets. After all, this is a set whose focus is on the person who’s been playing for weeks or months, not decades.
However, when it comes to determining the worthiness of their EDH potential, neither of those facts actually matter. So while some may lament core sets for being a bit on the boring side, don’t let that make you think there aren’t plenty of excellent multiplayer cards worthy of your attention. In fact, this set proved quite the opposite: there are copious new EDH-worthy cards to consider adding to your decks.
So let’s dive into the top ten most versatile Commander cards of Core 2019. As always, the goal of this list is to focus is on which cards can be utilized in the most situations and deck styles more so than those that are simply the most powerful or most valuable. I’m also focusing on new cards only – no reprints. Even taking those restrictions into account, it wasn’t easy to narrow them down. But here we go!Next: Commander Cards 10-6