Core Set 2019 Review — Red

Where Are My Dragons?

Welcome to the EDHREC Red Set Review for Core Set 2019. We have some exciting new fire-breathers to look over, so let’s get right to it.


Sarkhan

Three mana for a planeswalker is a good start. It will take a while to get to the ultimate, but neither +1 ability is bad, especially in a Dragon tribal deck. Would you pay 1{R}{R} for an enchantment that just let you discard and draw for four turns? In certain decks, sure. Would you play a Dragonspeaker Shaman in a Dragon tribal deck? Probably. What if they exploded into a squadron of Dragons after four turns? Not bad at all.

A bit odd, but in a deck full of strong creatures this could end the game faster with lots of free damage, depending on how the creatures come into play. Animar, Soul of Elements and Rakdos, Lord of Riots come to mind since they have to cast their creatures to get their strategy moving. Mayael the Anima, as a contrary example, doesn’t cast her creatures when using her ability, so this enchantment wouldn’t help her. Something to consider.


Sarkhan’s Planeswalker Deck

While these cards aren’t in the set itself, their release is timely…

Six mana for a planeswalker usually makes me sad. Still, this Sarkhan starts with five loyalty and is two turns away from putting every dragon in the deck onto the field. Dragonado! That’s a tornado made of Dragons. Since you just read that, there’s now a movie in the works.

Five mana to do a Lightning Bolt at sorcery speed, plus something similar to “Scry 5 and draw a card.” Not a great use of mana unless you are already losing and need the best answer near the top of your deck.

I don’t know anyone who has a Sarkhan tribal EDH deck, but if you’re out there, here’s a card just for you. No really, it is only for you and your specific deck. Enjoy!

A Dragon tribal deck would probably rather have another Dragon in the deck than a 2/2 Human Warrior that wants to fly. Dragonspeaker Shaman or Dragonmaster Outcast would be better non-Dragon choices since they help you make more Dragons, which is what a Dragon tribal deck wants to do. Speaking of Dragons…


Dragons

If you ever wanted to build a theoretical deck with Utvara Hellkite as your commander, then here’s a satisfying legendary twist on that theme. Looking at the top commanders for Dragon tribal stats, we have to scroll past more than twenty commanders before we find one that doesn’t have red in the color identity. Naturally, Lathliss goes into a bunch of Dragon decks. The more Dragon cards a deck has, the more cards with which she synergizes.

As another possibility, while I don’t know much about the history of Saskia the Unyielding, it is conceivable that she could be considered a ruler of her peoples, so we could do a mix of Wasitora, Nekoru Queen, Savra, Queen of the Golgari, Queen Marchesa, and Lady Zhurong, Warrior Queen (who?) for a “Queen-tribal-that-isn’t-really-tribal” deck. Then again, we could just go for the Queen theme and use Sliver Queen to fake everyone out, then add Oona, Queen of the Fae and Garza Zol, Plague Queen as well. It’s up to you whether “Empress” also counts, but there are some of those too, like Empress Galina.

Speaking of Wasitora, this card has a lot of words in common with her. It’s a flying Dragon that forces an opponent to think about their least favorite creature. Since this card works with an enter-the-battlefield effect, it would be more useful in decks that can move it in and out of the battlefield multiple times. Kresh the Bloodbraided and Shattergang Brothers both have access to colors with a variety of creature recursion from the graveyard, and Sedris, the Traitor King has his own way of doing that as well. Cobble together some recursion with Ravos, Soultender and your favorite red Partner commander. Anyway, this card is not completely irrelevant to EDH.

Unfortunately, this mono-red Dragon with an enter-the-battlefield ability actually is irrelevant to EDH. Paying extra mana to enable the ETB ability makes it much less appealing. The ability arguably isn’t as good, and the creature body is only 3/3 at five CMC. Probably best used in other formats.


Fire

The first ability to discard and draw is repeatable over multiple turns and cheap enough that he could see play with red commanders who can easily weaponize their card draw, such as The Locust God or Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind. The second ability to sacrifice itself along with three of your mana is probably best suited to other formats.

Technically, the notes about recursion with Demanding Dragon above also apply here. There are a lot more Dragon tribal decks than there are Viashino tribal decks, and this has a much lower payoff with only 2 damage to a player or planeswalker.

Trampling in with 7 power for only four mana seems like a good deal, especially if your commander provides a benefit from any of your creatures doing combat damage to a player. Consider Grenzo, Havoc Raiser, Saskia the Unyielding, or maybe some Admiral Beckett Brass builds using Arcane Adaptation and Xenograft, which conscript all creatures into a life of piracy. The recursion back into the deck after being used in combat feels like a drawback, and in most cases it will be, unless your commander is Animar, Soul of Elements who enjoys having more opportunities to cast creatures with a lot of generic mana in their mana cost.

How about trampling in with 4 power for four mana? Is that still good? No, not really. Then again, Boris Devilboon decks aren’t really that good, but a non-zero number of people still build that deck. Devil tribal exists. Barely.

Since things that get hit by lightning tend to catch fire, at least in the movies, I’m counting this in the burning category. Depending on the meta, this horse could be very useful if someone like Baral, Chief of Compliance has been pushing your group around. This set brings a new cycle of Horse creatures in all colors, so you can finally make your five-color equine tribal deck with Karona, False God. The deck is named “Horsey Heresy”.

Again, this creature looks like it probably sets things on fire by touching them. Both Radha, Heir to Keld and Grand Warlord Radha like attacking and then suddenly using their mana during combat, so I could see some mid-combat sacrificial tricks involving this card.

Six mana to do 7 damage to a creature at sorcery speed. I am having difficulty imagining what deck, or indeed what format, considers this a good deal compared to other available cards in the same color. My apologies.

While this is an instant, has the word ‘Dragon’ in the text, and has its own recursion to your hand, it is still just borderline playable in Dragon tribal EDH decks. Most of those decks would rather use the card slot to add another Dragon.


Goblins

While they are technically flammable, let’s move Goblins to their own section.

Dragon Fodder, Krenko’s Command, and Mogg War Marshal have a similar effect at the same mana cost. They are also all signature cards in Goblin tribal decks as well as being in the mix for creature token theme decks in general, so the Instigator should see some play as well. Solid card for the right decks.

Speaking of Goblin tribal signature cards, both Goblin Chieftain and Goblin King are on the top line with a +1/+1 effect to all your other Goblins. Paying one more generic mana for another version of the same effect on a 3/3 creature isn’t as valuable, since Goblin decks generally don’t care about the base power and toughness of their Goblins and would rather use their mana to get more of them. I’m not saying the Trashmaster isn’t valuable for Goblin tribal decks. It certainly is valuable. But it should be a third choice after the Chieftain and King (or fourth after Goblin Warchief).

Useful. Not overcosted. Krenko, Mob Boss decks would love to play this the turn before you cast Krenko himself. The Warrior subtype is getting a new surge of popularity from Najeela, the Blade-Blossom in Battebond, and she wouldn’t mind having haste either. Is your commander in red but doesn’t have haste? Does it have a tap ability or really like attacking? Consider the Motivator.

Goblin decks generally have plenty of expendable creatures around and would like to have extra card draw. This playable exile mechanic has appeared in recent red cards, and while not technically card draw, it does give additional card access. Shaman is in fact a strong tribe and this card aligns with Sek’Kuar, Deathkeeper’s interests, so that’s another possibility.

Potentially useful if you don’t own better Goblin cards. Four mana is at the high end for useful Goblin creatures, and there are probably better things a Goblin tribal deck can do with that mana.


The Rest

Speaking of better Goblin cards, Mizzix of the Izmagnus has a tendency to throw instants and sorceries around, accumulating a few experience counters along the way and making future instants and sorceries cheaper to cast. In a deck filled with spellslinger bombs, for maybe just {R}{R}{R} this spell could let Mizzix put a hand’s worth of cards on the board and let loose in the most effective way possible. Jodah, Archmage Eternal could play this from hand earlier than expected and do some damage. Maybe Wort, the Raidmother could have fun by copying it, but the copies of the spell wouldn’t be cast from hand.

This card is similar to Havoc Devils above, in that it costs four mana, pads a weak tribe, and I don’t want to play it.

Speaking of padding a weak tribe, here’s a vanilla ogre. EDH is not a format for vanilla creatures, warrior or not.

Borderline playable due to the activated ability, but again, the same sentiments apply as the previous few creatures. I have actually seen someone play a Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas EDH deck in real life, so there are real existing decks that might want this card.

If a deck plays Fling, it will probably also want to play Thud, unless the deck uses Sunforger as a hidden commander. If a deck doesn’t play Fling, then it probably won’t play Thud.

Similar to Fork, Reverberate, or Increasing Vengeance but without the flexibility of instant speed, opponent spells, or flashback recursion. So it’s not strictly as good as those examples, but it doesn’t cost any more mana. If your red deck already plays all of those cards because it has a win condition that involves copying your own spells, then this card might not be a bad addition to the redundant redundancy.

According to Tamiyo, this is a “rare and fascinating phenomenon”, which becomes even more rare when you realize that it is named after a specific mountain range on the planet Earth. Of course, this mountain range is so well-known on Earth that other words that involve mountains as a general concept were coined in reference or homage to this specific mountain range. I didn’t know that the Alps were well-known on other planes of the multiverse, but there you go. Tamiyo really digs deep in her investigations, I guess.

Does your meta have decks that use Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Cabal Coffers, or Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx as part of their win condition? Have you been pummeled by a Marit Lage token too many times after some Dark Depths counter shenanigans? This is a very specific hate card that could become useless if you play it too early and guess your opponents’ lands incorrectly. It gives your opponents access to any color of mana, so it doesn’t interfere with their mana fixing. The art is pretty, though.


So, what are your thoughts on Core 2019’s fiery new additions? Do you prefer the Dragons, or the Dragon Fodder?

Nate is a game developer, programmer, and writer from San Francisco. He is a co-host of the Commander Time! podcast, a former co-host of the Commanderin’ MTG Podcast, and does occasional programming with EDHREC's database. Nate can be found @commandtime and/or @misterplorg.